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Aadhaar survives

Right to Privacy
Aadhaar and cash transfers
The Supreme Court finds a pragmatic middle path between the Aadhaar scheme’s excesses and its benefits to the marginalised

The Aadhaar project has survived a fierce(भयंकर/प्रचण्ड) legal challenge. Ever since a nine-judge Bench ruled unanimously(सर्वसम्मति से) last year that privacy is a fundamental right, opinion(राय/विचार) began to gain ground that the unique identification programme was vulnerable(चपेट में/आलोचनीय) in the face of judicial(न्यायिक) scrutiny(जांच). It was projected by sceptics(संशयवादी/संदेहवादी)detractors(विरोधियों/समीक्षक) and activists(कार्यकर्ताओं) as an intrusion on citizens’ privacy, a byword for a purported (कथित/दावा करना)surveillance(निगरानी/जांच ) system, a grand project to harvest(फ़सल/पैदावार) personal data for commercial exploitation(काम लेना/शोषण) by private parties and profiling by the state. But the government has staved off the challenge by successfully arguing(बहस/उलझ जाना)that it is essentially(अनिवार्य रूप से/दर असल) a  transformative(परिवर्तनकारी) scheme primarily aimed at reaching benefits and subsidies to the poor and the marginalised. Four of the five judges on a Constitution Bench ruled that the law enabling the implementation(कार्यान्वयन/अमल) of the programme does not violate the right to privacy of citizens; instead, the project empowers marginalised sections and procures dignity for them along with services, benefits and subsidies by leveraging the power of technology.

In upholding the constitutional validity of Aadhaar and clarifying areas in which it cannot be made mandatory(अनिवार्य/आदेशात्मक), the Supreme Court has restored the original intent(प्रयोजन/आशय) of the programme: to plug leakages in subsidy schemes and to have better targeting of welfare benefits. Over the years, Aadhaar came to mean much more than this in the lives of ordinary people, acquiring(प्राप्त/संग्रह) the shape of a basic identity(मूल पहचान) document that was required to access more and more services, such as birth and death certificates, SIM cards, school admissions, property registrations and vehicle purchases. A unique identity number, that could be availed on a voluntary(स्वेच्छापूर्ण) basis and was conceived(कल्पना/ध्यान में लाना) to eliminate the rampant fraud in the distribution(वितरण/विभाजन) of benefits, had threatened(धमकाना) to morph — with the Centre’s tacit acceptance — into something that was mandatory for various aspects of life. The judgment narrows the scope of Aadhaar but provides a framework within which it can work. The majority opinion has sought to limit the import of the scheme to aspects directly related to welfare benefits, subsidies and money spent from the Consolidated(संयुक्त/संगठित) Fund of India. Thus, controversial(विवादास्पद) circulars(परिपत्र) and rules making it mandatory to link mobile phone numbers and bank accounts to Aadhaar numbers have been declared unconstitutional. Section 57 of the Aadhaar (Targeted Delivery Of Financial And Other Subsidies, Benefits And Services) Act, 2016, has been struck down to the extent that it authorised body corporates and individuals to use the Aadhaar number to establish someone’s identity. Schools have been barred from making the submission of the Aadhaar number mandatory to enrol children. A few other provisions (प्रावधानों)have been read down or clarified.

Watch | Aadhaar: Where’s it required and where’s it not?

In upholding Aadhaar, the majority opinion was not oblivious(बेख़बर/अनजान) to the impact of disbanding a project that has already completed much ground. For instance, relying on official statistics(आंकड़े,), the majority favoured the scheme’s continuance(निरंतरता/स्थिति) for the sake of the 99.76% of people included under it, rather than fret over the 0.24% who were excluded(बाहर रखा गया/छोड़ा हुआ) because of authentication(प्रमाणीकरण) failure. “The remedy(उपाय/इलाज) is to plug the loopholes(कमियां/बचाव का रास्ता) rather than axe the project,” the Bench said. With enrolment saturation reaching 1.2 billion people, the programme had acquired a scale and momentum(गति) that was irreversible(अपरिवर्तनीय/स्थिर). It was perhaps this pragmatic(व्यावहारिक/हस्‍तक्षेप करने वाला) imperative(अनिवार्य/आदेशात्मक) that led the majority to conclude that the government was justified in the passage of the Aadhaar Act as a ‘money bill’, even though under a strict interpretation this is a difficult position to defend, the Centre’s objective being to bypass the Rajya Sabha, where it did not have a majority. The Court has addressed this issue by accepting the government’s argument that Section 7, which enables the use of Aadhaar to avail of any government subsidy, benefit or service for which expenditure(लागत/खर्च) is incurred out of the Consolidated Fund of India, is the core provision in the law, and that this makes it a ‘money bill’. It has chosen to accept the technical arguments on the safety of the Aadhaar architecture and the end-to-end encryption that underlies the transmission of captured biometric data to the Unique Identification Authority of India. The majority opinion has looked at the larger picture beyond the merits(गुण) or demerits of the Aadhaar programme and the arguments for and against it. It held that the Aadhaar Act passes the “triple test” laid down in the ‘Privacy’ judgment under which there ought to be a law, a legitimate state interest and an element ofproportionality(समानता) in any law that seeks to abridge the right of privacy.

In his dissent, Justice D.Y. Chandrachud argued that the Rajya Sabha’s authority has been superseded(हटा देना/उल्लंघन ) and that this “constitutes a fraud on the Constitution” — a position that is impossible to fault if one adopts a strict interpretation(व्याख्या/विवेचन) of what a money bill is. As a result of this “debasement(मानमर्दन) of a democratic institution”, he held the Aadhaar Act unconstitutional. He also expressed his displeasure(अप्रसन्नता) at the government passing a series of orders making Aadhaar compulsory for various reasons, in defiance of interim(अंतरिम ) orders from the Supreme Court. He highlighted the biometric authentication failures that have led to denial of rights and legal entitlements(अधिकार,), and located the reason for such failures in the project’s inability to account for and remedy flaws in its network and design. He ruled that denial of benefits arising out of any social security rights is “violative of human dignity and impermissible(नाजायज/अनुचित)under our constitutional scheme”. Few would disagree with him in that “dignity and rights of individuals cannot be made to depend on algorithms and probabilities(संभावनाओं /अनुमान)”. Finally, it was the arguments in favour of benefits to the poor and the practical consequences(परिणाम/महत्त्व) of abandoning the scheme that won the day. Aadhaar possibly was simply too big to fail.


Important Vocabulary


Synonyms: angry, bold, brutal, cutthroat, dangerous
Antonyms: apathetic, calm, cold, cool, dull

Synonyms: critic, cynic, dissenter, dissident, heretic
Antonyms: believer

Synonyms: life-changing, transformational, metamorphic, born-again, cathartic
Antonyms: uneventful, everyday, ordinary

Synonyms: critic, censor, defamer, depreciator

5.Arguing(बहस/उलझ जाना
Synonyms: contend, disagree, dispute, quarrel, quibble
Antonyms: agree, concur, give in, make peace, abstain

Synonyms: analysis, audit, inquiry, inspection, investigation

7.Conceived(कल्पना/ध्यान में लाना) 
Synonyms: accept, assume, believe, perceive, realize
Antonyms: neglect, avoid, be immune, disbelieve, dislike

Synonyms: blind, deaf, inattentive, unconcerned, unfamiliar
Antonyms: attentive, aware, concerned, conscious, mindful

Synonyms: compulsory, critical, crucial, essential, immediate
Antonyms: inessential, insignificant, nonessential, optional, trivial

10.Pragmatic(व्यावहारिक/हस्‍तक्षेप करने वाला
Synonyms: businesslike, down-to-earth, efficient, hardheaded, logical
Antonyms: excited, impractical, inefficient, irrational, unrealistic

Synonyms: inevitable, permanent, beyond recall, certain, changeless

Synonyms: authorization, certificate, charter, consent, exemption
Antonyms: responsibility, denial, imprisonment, incarceration, limitation

13.Probabilities(संभावनाओं /अनुमान)
Synonyms: anticipation, chance, contingency, expectation, feasibility
Antonyms: certainty, unlikelihood, reality, improbability

Synonyms: banned, closed, closed-down, closed-up, contraband




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