It’s not over. The fight against Aadhaar is never completely over until the last person gets their due. After all, we are still the country where Gandhi’s ideals of Antyodaya through Sarvodaya live on. The Aadhaar card was touted as something that would help all, especially the poor. But that hasn’t been the case.
A five-judge constitution bench headed by Chief Justice Dipak Misra and comprising Justices AK Sikri, AM Khanwilkar, DY Chandrachud and Ashok Bhushan declared the Aadhaar Act as constitutionally valid on September 26, 2018. All judges except Justice Chandrachud gave a concurring judgement. But, all the judgements have recognised that there are parts of the Aadhaar Act that are not valid and some of its provisions were struck down, including Aadhaar linking with bank accounts, mobile phones and school admissions. Aadhaar would remain mandatory for availing social services, subsidy, benefits under Section 7 of the Act and for filing of Income Tax (IT) returns and allotment of Permanent Account Number (PAN).
The verdict on the validity of the Aadhaar Act, which was introduced as a Money Bill in Lok Sabha, has been hailed and condemned almost in equal measure. But, there can be no doubt about the verdict being loaded heavily against the poor.
“Something that was started as giving an ID to a people has been so terribly coercive and repressive,” said Usha Ramanathan, a lawyer who has tirelessly petitioned against the Aadhaar project.
Ramanathan added that the SC verdict shook up the project, but it was disconcerting that “for the government Aadhaar is an inclusive project”. “While the majority judgment has said many things, it has also found many problems in the project. It seems to me that the court appears to be ‘innocent’ even when data and facts were given to them—people from around the country sent affidavits,” pointed out Ramanathan at a meeting organised at the Indian Women Press Corps in Delhi on the evening after the verdict was delivered, September 26.
The verdict on the validity of the Aadhaar Act, which was introduced as a Money Bill in Lok Sabha, has been hailed and condemned almost in equal measure
One big positive from the judgment is that it has said that the Money Bill can be reviewed in court. “In earlier judgments, it had been stated that Money Bills could not be challenged in court. But now, getting any Bill certified by the Speaker as a Money Bill will not be enough. Now, the courts can check if it would, in fact, qualify as a Money Bill or not. Given the way how Parliament is functioning these days, this is an important review,” said Ramanathan. “Justice Sikri said the Aadhaar Act came under the Money Bill, but he didn’t specify how. In fact, this judgment acts as an editor of the Parliament as it suggested ways to make it a Constitutional law. It seems like a lot of effort has been put in by the judges to help what was passed as a Money Bill to survive constitutionally,” explained Ramanathan.
“Justice Chandrachud has encapsulated what the petitioners have said and put it in a judgment. He has understood how technology has changed the game and also the relation between the state and the people. This means that it also has judicial recognition and it will be important over a period of time,” said Ramanathan emphatically.
Rights activist Nikhil Dey opined, “The whole point about the Aadhaar was its biometric usage. Unless you put in your biometric, you can’t get ration. There is so much class bias. People think those who do not have Aadhaar cards face trouble, but it is those who have an Aadhaar card that are excluded from benefits because of the Aadhaar card. More than 25% of the population is excluded. None of it is because they do not have an Aadhaar, but because the biometric doesn’t register. In this city, there is no network in many places, what can you say about India’s villages then? It is not a question of implementation, it is unworkable.”
Concurring with Dey, RTI activist Anjali Bhardwaj said what was disheartening was the exclusion of the poor. “There are areas where PoS machines don’t function. In Delhi alone, 20% of the Aadhaar card holders cannot access ration because of Aadhaar. Eventually, the Delhi government said that Aadhaar is not mandatory to avail ration,” said Bhardwaj.
“What we will say is ‘vote on the Aadhaar’. “Few months from now there are elections and the only way forward is to vote on it. It is to make the government of the day realise if there should be a law like this at all,” said rights activist Nikhil Dey
Citing examples, Dey said that in Rajasthan alone ₹100 crore of NREGA payments were rejected, not because people hadn’t worked, but because the Aadhaar would not function. So, people have dropped out of NREGA because they are not going to continue working if they won’t get paid. Hinting at taking this to an electoral battle, Dey asserted that the government may think that it could assert the validity of Aadhaar through power point presentations in court, but what we will say is ‘vote on the Aadhaar’. “Few months from now there are elections and the only way forward is to vote on it. It is to make the government of the day realise if there should be a law like this at all,” said Dey unequivocally.
Bhardwaj also rubbished claims that Aadhaar is an anti-corruption tool. “How is it an anti-corruption tool? Where is the evidence to put the entire nation through such inconvenience and loss of life. This government has not been able to give any evidence to back any of their claims and goes back on all its claims. The judgement overlooks all the evidence that was put forth,” said Bhardwaj.
“The UIDAI CEO Ajay Pandey’s powerpoint presentation showed many cases of corruption and harassment due to Aadhaar. At times, we wondered whether he was appearing for us or for UIDAI. Yet, most of the bench has chosen to ignore it,” said Ramanathan.
Activists say they are also considering appealing for review of the judgment. “There are errors in the judgement. We might take it back to court in several ways as most of it is an Article 21 case and chip at the judgement in many ways. We have to take it to the political arena—to the people,” said Ramanathan.