After hearing the submissions of the Counsels appearing for the petitioners for 19 days, the 5-judge bench of Dipak Misra, CJ and Dr. AK Sikri, AM Khanwilkar, Dr. DY Chandrachud and Ashok Bhushan, JJ began hearing the submissions of the Attorney General KK Venugopal on the 20th Day of the Aadhaar hearing.
Below are the highlights from the submissions of AG KK Venugopal on Day 20 of the Aadhaar hearing:
- Various expert committees have examined Aadhaar, and other alternatives were also considered before Aadhaar was decided upon. Many countries have already implemented unique identity systems. Even World Bank approves of Aadhaar Scheme. (Cites “identifications for development” report of World Bank.)
- CEO of Aadhaar has a PowerPoint presentation explaining all technical and security aspects of Aadhaar. He will be able to answer all questions related to Aadhaar.
- CJI: We want to hear the legal contentions first, especially on Privacy and anonymity. We also want to hear about virtual mass surveillance. In the name of security you can’t impose a stamping culture where everyone is stamped with an Aadhaar. Inspite of assurance of safety, your database is not entirely safe. I want the State to refute all these contentions made by the petitioners.
- AG: After seeing the PowerPoint presentation, the State will be able to explain their legal contentions better. We also want to show a four minute video on security of Aadhaar. All doubts of duplication will be cleared through it.
- Bench: We will discuss if we want to see the PowerPoint presentation.
- AG (continuing with his arguments):
- Huge money has been saved by giving benefits and subsidies via Aadhaar. Gap between rich and poor will reduce with use of Aadhaar.
- From 2009 to 2016 , Aadhaar was completely voluntary. But people still signed up for it. So question of coercion does not arise, at least until September 2016.
- Article 21 encompasses right to employment, education, shelter etc. Aadhaar act is helping in achieve all these rights for the people.
- Sikri, J: There’s a clash between right to life and right to privacy. People are getting excluded. There have been various affidavits filed proving the same.
- AG: NGOs are filing these affidavits. Not a single person has come forward and said that they suffered due to Aadhaar.
- Chandrachud, J: Economic and social guarantee is not antithesis to political guarantee. Can’t forgo of political liberty for the sake of economic and social justice. People died during Bengal famine due to lack of information. During the famine in Maharashtra in 1970s per capita income went lower than Sudan but people did not die because information was not cut off.
- AG: Right of people to not die of hunger and have shelter prevails right to privacy.
- Bhushan, J: All these rights do not trump right to privacy. They coexist.
- AG: Nobody was coerced to get Aadhaar. It was voluntary between 2009-16.
- Chandrachud, J: There were no safeguards during that time. It came only when the act was passed. People did not contemplate giving up their personal data for commercial purposes.
- Sikri, J: People who enrolled that time (not for benefits or subsidies) say there was no informed consent that time.
- AG: Aadhaar is facilitating Indian residents to get subsidies, benefits, scholarships etc. It’s an efficient, transparent delivery of services. It is in consonance with the directive principles of state policy. A handful of petitioners are challenging it.
- AG: Aadhaar can help curb issues like money laundering, black money, etc.
- Sikri, J: How is Employees pension scheme covered under Section 7? It is a person’s right to get pension.
- AG: This was done to prevent fake Identity.
- Chandrachud and Sikri, JJ: How does a pensioner who lives abroad with his children get pension since he will not be able to produce his Aadhaar card in person?
- AG: Aadhaar is only required for residents. There must be some provision in the pension act to give pension to an NRI. Such a person will not be governed by Aadhaar act.
- Chandrachud, J: Pension accounts are individual accounts. No question of impersonation. What if an old pensioner has dementia? His fingerprints might not work. He can’t keep running around banks for the purpose of authentication.
- AG: There are exceptions for individuals whose fingerprints and Iris scans won’t work. For eg. People suffering from leprosy. Govt will not try to deprive someone of their rightful entitlement.
- Chandrachud, J: Pension doesn’t come under “subsidies, benefits and services” under section 7. It is an entitlement.
- AG: Pension is given out of the consolidated fund of India. Hence it’s covered.
- Chandrachud, J: We should acknowledge that there’s a problem of financial exclusion in our country. Cabinet secretary had agreed. To say that someone has not come to court therefore there’s no exclusion is wrong.
- Mahatma Gandhi said that the world has enough for everyone’s needs but not everyone’s greed. Poverty is a huge problem and Aadhaar will be a step to solve it. There are 300 million poor people in India who deserve to live a life of dignity. Please weigh the balance and see if these people want privacy or a life of dignity.
- Aadhaar act also provides exceptions and backup authentication in various regulations during contingencies like power cut, Network connectivity, Biometrics not working etc.
- Aadhaar’s results will show in a few years. We’ve already fixed problems like misappropriation, multiple identities. We are working towards making this project more effective.
- Official identification is more than a convenience. It is a fundamental human right. It helps in economic development, participation in electoral process, and helps the govt in providing benefits to the people. It is a key enabler of other sustainable development goals.
- Universal digital identity is becoming important around the world. The World Bank recently launched “identification for development” report.
- Sikri, J: We agree that unique identification is important. But why not use a less intrusive means. Why is Aadhaar data stored in a centralized database over a long period of time? There’s a risk of metadata. Doctrine of proportionaliy is important here. In Singapore, people are supposed to have a unique identity. But that data is not stored with the government.
- AG: Smart card was considered but it’ll not work in the Indian context. Duplication and aggregation of data is impossible with Aadhaar. Metadata is not stored by CIDR.
- Chandrachud, J: But authentication records are stored.
- AG: Let us give a power point presentation.
- CJI: We’ll let you know. We would like to have the presentation in word format.
- Senior Advocate KV Vishwanathan (For petitioners): If there’s a presentation, then petitioners should be given a chance to cross examine.
- Chandrachud, J: Questions can be given to the Bench.
To read the highlights from submissions of Senior Advocates Meenakshi Arora, Sajan Poovayya, CU SIngh, Sanjay Hegde and Counsel Jayna Kothari, click here.
To read the highlights from submissions of Senior Advocates KV Viswanathan and Anand Grover, click here.