The Supreme Court on Monday declared that the Aadhaar Act was constitutionally valid, though it gave the government and the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) a slap on the wrist on a number of aspects of the law. Unsurprisingly, there have been a host of reactions to the judgment, some welcoming it and others expressing disappointment.
Centre, BJP feel vindicated
Finance Minister Arun Jaitley welcomed the Supreme Court's verdict, calling it a "historic decision". At a press conference, he said it was a welcome decision that Aadhaar's concept of a unique identity number and legislation has been accepted after a judicial review. Jaitley also said that by identifying beneficiaries of the government scheme and ensuring that there were no fake, or duplicate, or non existent beneficiaries, the Centre would save Rs 90,000 every year. He also said that Aadhaar's critics should realise that technology cannot be defied or ignored any longer.
"Aadhaar is a great step forward in the use of technology in governance. It will continue to be a great benefit to the society," he said, expressing gratitude to the advocates of the Aadhaar scheme — Nandan Nilekani and Ajay Bhushan Pandey.
Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad, who was resent at the press conference, called to brief the media on a Cabinet meeting on Wednesday, also praised the Supreme Court's verdict, saying the decision is "a judgement of moment, empowering democracy, good governance, service delivery and also empowering the ordinary Indian".
"The purpose of Aadhaar is legitimate and in the State's interest. It is not a surveillance tool," he asserted.
The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) described the Supreme Court judgment on Aadhaar as a big victory for the "pro poor" Narendra Modi government. BJP spokesperson Sambit Patra said that the top court had ruled that Aadhaar was safe.
"We see it as a big victory for the pro-poor Modi government. The Supreme Court has upheld the constitutional validity of Aadhaar and has also said that it does not violate privacy," Patra said.
The UIDAI, too, called it a "historical and landmark judgement". "The Aadhaar verdict is a victory for the UIDAI and the Government of India and has also set the pace of India's digital destiny," the authority said. "It has been established by the judgment that Aadhaar is not for State surveillance as profiling is not possible using the minimal data that Aadhaar has. There are sufficient safeguards to disallow any abuse."
Congress welcomes move, but for different reasons
The Congress, too, welcomed the top court's decision, but this was particularly its decision to read down Section 57 of the Aadhaar Act, which allowed private entities to access Aadhaar data. The party called the move a "slap on the face of the BJP".
"We welcome the Supreme Court's decision to strike down Section 57 of the Aadhaar Act. Private entities are no longer allowed to use Aadhaar for verification purposes," the Congress said on Twitter, minutes after the verdict was pronounced.
Several party leaders supported the court's ruling, as well.
Congress president Rahul Gandhi praised the verdict but, once again, alleged that the BJP was using the Aadhaar scheme for surveillance rather than for empowerment.
For Congress, Aadhaar was an instrument of empowerment.
For the BJP, Aadhaar is a tool of oppression and surveillance.
Thank you Supreme Court for supporting the Congress vision and protecting 🇮🇳. #AadhaarVerdict
— Rahul Gandhi (@RahulGandhi) September 26, 2018
Senior advocate and Congress leader Kapil Sibal said that if the BJP government does not bring the Aadhaar Act to the Rajya Sabha — the Act was passed surpassing the Upper House as it was introduced in the Lok Sabha as a money bill — the Congress will approach the Supreme Court again.
However, he denied that the verdict upholding the validity of Aadhaar was "not a setback as striking down the Act would have deprived the marginalised sections". "But we agree with Justice DY Chandrachud that it is a fraud (to introduce the bill as a money bill) on the Constitution."
'A very good, balanced judgment'
Retired justice KS Puttaswamy, one of the first to question the legality of Aadhaar, welcomed the Supreme Court verdict. "After holistic consideration, my opinion is that the majority judgment on the validity of Aadhaar Act is correct, though I have not read the whole judgment yet," the 92-year-old retired Karnataka High Court judge said. On the court upholding the mandatory Aadhaar-PAN linking, he said those who pay income tax are limited, and they belong to a separate class.
West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee hailed the judgment and said: "It is a victory of the people of this country and we are very happy... The days of the BJP government are over in the country."
Attorney general of India KK Venugopal told ANI, "I am very happy with the judgment. It is a landmark and remarkable judgment."
Amitabh Kant, CEO of the Niti Aayog, agreed that it is "a good and a progressive judgment and will bring efficiency in the country". He stressed the Supreme Court's observation that Aadhaar has stood the test of constitutionality.
Leading figures from the IT sector said that the apex court's verdict is balanced. Former Chief Financial Officer of Infosys, TV Mohandas Pai told PTI, "Overall, it is a very good, balanced judgement that recognises Aadhaar as a unique entity, empowers the government to make Aadhaar mandatory with conditions in certain cases and recognises the primacy of the individual's right to her data."
Another ex-CFO of Infosys, V Balakrishnan, said the apex court has come out with a balanced view on the issue. "The Supreme Court has, in effect, addressed many of the concerns related to the wide use of Aadhaar data and resulting data privacy issues," Balakrishnan said. "The all-pervasive use of people's Aadhaar number has been curtailed by the judgment to a large extent."
Senior advocate Prashant Bhushan reacted to the Supreme Court's verdict saying that the major concerns of citizens had been taken care of, but he expressed concern with the verdict upholding the Act as a money bill.
One issue before the SC was whether the Aadhaar Act could have been passed as a money bill, thus bypassing the Rajya Sabha. Govt has been misusing the money bill provision to pass Acts having nothing to do with govt funds such as the FCRA or Representation of People Act. https://t.co/mg26G9QCFQ — Prashant Bhushan (@pbhushan1) September 26, 2018
Former attorney general Soli Sorabjee called it "a good judgment" in providing relief to citizens and said Justice DY Chandrachud's dissent was very important. "I think that on the whole, it is a good judgment. Although personally, I am happy with Justice Chandrachud's judgment striking it down on the grounds that it bothers the right to privacy," he said.
Pavan Duggal, one of the nation's leading cyber law experts, said that the Aadhaar verdict was a huge sigh of relief for citizens, though he warned that it would now be a "humongous task to ensure that the data already with private companies is not misused or sold".
Supratim Chakraborty, associate partner at law firm Khaitan and Co, also warned that there was "need to have proper safeguards as to how information is being used by private parties"
Neel Ratan, a partner at PwC India, said the verdict "provides reasonable restrictions to ensure that citizens' consent is taken and misuse of data can be controlled, while benefits of Aadhaar can be adequately passed on to marginalised groups".
Pointing out that banks should stop issuing Aadhaar cards as it has no connection to banking, the general secretary of the All India Bank Employees Association, CH Venkatachalam, said, "As far as banks are concerned, an Aadhaar card is one more card to identify a person while opening an account. No other purpose is served beyond that."
With inputs from agencies
Updated Date: Sep 26, 2018 19:54 PM