The Supreme Court on Wednesday upheld the validity of India's ambitious biometric identity project, "Aadhaar", saying it benefited the marginalized and poor, but sharply reined in a government push to make it mandatory for various services. The Supreme Court had said in March that linking of the Aadhaar to PAN, bank accounts and mobile numbers is to be extended indefinitely till the judgment.
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However, the Supreme Court also given a ray of hope to the embattled government over the Aadhaar scheme and said: "We commend to the Union government the need to examine and put into place a robust regime for data protection".
Court struck down the provision in Aadhaar law allowing sharing of data on the ground of national security.
The majority judgement, read out in a packed courthouse by Justice Sikri, relied heavily on the court's landmark 2017 Privacy judgement.
"Sunlight is best disinfectant", says Justice DY Chandrachud, one of the three judges said in his separate but concurring judgment.
The bench said attack on Aadhaar by petitioners is based on violation of rights under the Constitution, will lead to a surveillance State.
"Minimal demographic and biometric data of citizens are collected by the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) for Aadhaar enrolment". He also added that till the matter has been decided by the court, the petitions challenging the constitutional validity of Aadhaar could not be taken up.
In 2013, an apex court bench passed an interim order stating that the UID number can not be made mandatory for gas connections, vehicle registration, scholarships, marriage registration, salaries and provident fund. The petition, filed by Congressman Jairam Ramesh, alleged that the Act was passed a money bill to "bypass the scrutiny of the Rajya Sabha".
Aadhaar is not compulsory for school admissions.
He said Aadhaar violates informational privacy.
Critics had warned that the public's privacy is at risk, claiming Aadhaar cards would link a large amount of data, without clear safeguards for access or use by government or private companies. This act permits the disclosure of identity information and authentication records for national security. "As far as I am concerned, the state can not take away my body", he said.
The petition challenging the Aadhaar scheme-when it had no statutory backing which eventually came by the 2016 Aadhaar Act-was first moved by retired judge of the Karnataka High Court Justice KS Puttaswamy.
The Congress favoured middlemen while the Modi government brought Aadhaar to ensure that benefits are given directly to people, he said.
Aadhaar was initially meant for availing government schemes but every government/ private entity started demanding Aadhar making it mandatory.