The Supreme Court ruling on Aadhaar-PAN linkage on Friday is a reminder to the Narendra Modi government that it needs to plug the loopholes on the privacy concerns surrounding the Aadhaar programme.
The Supreme Court has ordered a partial stay on Section 139 AA of the Income tax Act pending the pleas that Aadhaar infringes right to privacy before the constitutional bench of apex court. The ruling simply means this: Those who have an Aadhaar number already will still have to seed it with PAN when filing the IT returns, but the government cannot force those who don’t have an Aadhaar card as yet, to get one to file their tax returns if they have a PAN.
The order is neither a victory nor a defeat for the Modi government. Of course, it is a temporary setback for it since the court has put a big barrier in the government’s way to progress with the Aadhaar-PAN linkage programme — creation of a convincing framework to plug the data leakage. But, it will be wrong to say the stay is egg on face of the Modi government for the simple reason that the court hasn’t quashed the Section 139AA of the IT Act but has only put the progress of the plan on hold.
But, the observation of the privacy issue can lead to a lot more legal battles between anti-Aadhaar lobby and the government, as the Aadhaar is being made mandatory for a lot more services, one by one. This undoubtedly puts the privacy debate back to the table.
Of course, privacy concerns on the Aadhaar should be addressed. But, this shouldn’t be the primary subject of the Aadhaar debate, for the simple reason that much of the personal information of every citizen is already accessible to the government (and even various private service providers) through various means. As many experts have pointed out, the government doesn’t really need an Aadhaar number to secure someone’s personal information.
This is not to say that Aadhaar holder doesn’t require a right by law to keep his information secret from the government/ public access.
But, let’s remember that most of us willingly give away the personal information to mobile phone service providers, e-commerce firms and online shopping portals that are often shared with other entities for business purposes.
Also, as per the Aadhaar Act, even the Unique Identification Authority of India cannot share the personal information available under Aadhaar records with any agency unless there is an order from a district judge. On issues of national security, only a joint secretary level officer can authorise access of personal data, that too after getting an order from the central government.
But, having said that, there have been reports of data leakage. It wasn’t long back when cricketer Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s wife tweeted saying her husband’s personal data is leaked while he was updating the Aadhaar details at Ranchi.
But, as this writer pointed out in an earlier column, the bigger concern of the government should be that the Aadhaar doesn’t lead to exclusion of poor when it makes it mandatory for receiving government benefits.
Also, as mentioned earlier, there have been cases of Aadhaar deactivation due to biometric identity mismatches. This is yet again a serious problem. The Aadhaar Act entitles the right to every citizen to have an Aadhaar card and it shouldn’t be left to the discretion of an officer to take back that right.
Regardless of the criticism, the Aaadhar is a revolutionary step that is fundamental to the Director Benefit Transfer programme conceptualised by the UPA government and followed by the NDA regime.
It has helped to plug subsidy leakages to a significant extent. Much work and investment have gone into the institution of Aadhaar-mechanism. Already 115 crore Aadhaar cards have been issued so far. The Aadhaar was originally conceptualised as an enabler to transfer government benefits though later the government expanded its ambit to other areas as well. But, the privacy concerns need to be addressed with institution of a proper framework.
The Supreme Court's stay on Aadhaar-PAN linkage pertains to only one aspect of the Aadhaar debate. The bigger takeaway from the ruling is that it is now even more critical for the government to resolve the privacy concerns surrounding the Aadhaar. Else, the scheme will face many more roadblocks.
Updated Date: Jun 09, 2017 17:02 PM