SC verdict on Aadhaar does not support the Congress' stance; Rahul Gandhi's criticism of BJP is unfounded
The Supreme Court has upheld the Lok Sabha's decision to table the Aadhaar legislation as a Money Bill, and has retained provisions mandating it for welfare measures.
Rahul Gandhi, in an interesting take on the Supreme Court's judgment on Aadhaar. thanked the apex court “for supporting the Congress vision." The Congress president claimed that “for the BJP, Aadhaar is a tool of oppression and surveillance”.
He, however, conveniently forgot that Jairam Ramesh, a former minister during the UPA regime and a Rajya Sabha MP from the Congress, had petitioned the Supreme Court challenging the passage of the Aadhaar legislation as a Money Bill, and sought that the legislation be struck down. Kapil Sibal, another UPA-era minister, represented Ramesh in court. P Chidambaram, yet another former minister and Rajya Sabha MP, argued against the Aadhaar law in his capacity as a senior advocate.
The Congress was the original author of Aadhaar. However, after having lost power, the party put in all its might to argue before the Supreme Court that the law brought in by the Narendra Modi government should be declared invalid. It should instead have claimed credit for having done pioneering work on this front. Outside court too, the party carried out all kinds of campaigns to portray the law as a draconian one, on the lines of what Rahul tweeted on Wednesday —
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
The Supreme Court, in a 4:1 verdict, declared the law as constitutionally valid, and upheld the passage of the Aadhaar legislation as a Money Bill. This judgment is a huge embarrassment for the Congress and a big victory for the Narendra Modi-led government. While the apex court put in place some riders, struck down some sections and clarified where Aadhaar was required and where it was not, it declared the law as a valid one. This gives cause to cheer for the Union government. The Aadhaar Act will continue to be the law of the land, albeit without provisions which required the number to be linked with mobile numbers, bank accounts, etc. The Supreme Court has upheld the Lok Sabha's decision to table the legislation as a Money Bill, and has retained provisions mandating it for welfare measures, and provisions for linking it to PAN.
Thus, the Supreme Court has stressed on transparency in the system and last-mile delivery.
The Congress president should have cared to read the ruling before commenting on it. The apex court has effectively answered criticism about Aadhaar being a "tool of oppression and surveillance." With respect to the latter, the court said, "The architecture of Aadhaar as well as the provisions of the Aadhaar Act do not tend to create a surveillance state. This is ensured by the manner in which the Aadhaar project operates.” With respect to the former, the majority verdict held, "In a welfare State, where measures are taken to ameliorate the sufferings of the downtrodden, the aim of the Act is to ensure that these benefits actually reach the populace for whom they are meant. This is naturally a legitimate State aim….Enrolment in Aadhaar of the unprivileged and marginalised section of the society, in order to avail the fruits of welfare schemes of the Government, actually amounts to empowering these persons. On the one hand, it gives such individuals their unique identity and, on the other hand, it also enables such individuals to avail the fruits of welfare schemes of the Government which are floated as socio-economic welfare measures to uplift such classes. In that sense, the scheme ensures dignity to such individuals. This facet of dignity cannot be lost sight of and needs to be acknowledged.”
Other senior Congress leaders too should have gone through the judgment before calling it a "slap” on the face of the BJP. The Congress lost on both counts – the popular narrative and the legal battle.
Congress leaders had spoken at length on privacy concerns pertaining to Aadhaar. However, Arun Jaitley and Ravi Shankar Prasad effectively rebutted their arguments.
The Supreme Court is interpreted to have taken a stand contrary to that of the Centre through its ruling on linking of bank accounts with Aadhaar. However, it is mandatory to have a PAN to open a bank account, and it also remains mandatory to link PAN with Aadhaar. Therefore, the authorities can always check the veracity of an account holder if need be. The court observed that Aadhaar cannot be duplicated, unlike PAN. The linking of Aadhaar and PAN has a huge bearing on benami property and several other things. By now, banks have already collected the Aadhaar numbers of almost all their customers. The ruling is silent on what banks are supposed to do with that database.
On Wednesday, finance minister Arun Jaitley suggested that the government could bring in a law on linking of Aadhaar with bank accounts and mobile numbers.
The ferocity with which the Congress opposed the existing Aadhaar legislation gives rise to the question as to why it wanted the law to be struck down. It is not clear why the party was fine with Aadhaar as a unique identification, but not as a document to be linked with various aspects of the economic lives of people. It is indisputable that Aadhaar was a big step forward in introducing probity and transparency in the system, particularly in last-mile delivery to the needy. It eliminated the role of a vast mass of middlemen and minimised corruption.
The Congress' position also gives rise to the question as to whether the party is afraid that the Modi government's welfare measures — including subsidies, pensions, scholarships and wages for MNREGA workers — will reach the intended beneficiaries on time, and in full measure. If this happens, it would make crores of people from the weaker sections of society sympathetic to Modi and the BJP.
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