11 August 2015

Aadhaar Interim Order Calls for Some Clarification

The Supreme Court of India today in the Writ Petition (Civil) No. 494 of 2012 with regard to Aadhaar dealing with Right to Privacy have passed the order requesting the Chief Justice of India to refer the matter to a Bench of appropriate strength.

Till the matter is decided by the larger Bench, an interim order was also passed. It has the following aspects:
  1. The Union of India shall give wide publicity  in  the  electronic  and print  media including radio and television  networks  that  it  is  not mandatory for a citizen to obtain an Aadhaar card;
  2. The production of an Aadhaar card will not be condition for  obtaining any benefits otherwise due to a citizen;
  3. The Unique Identification Number or the Aadhaar card will not be  used by the respondents for  any  purpose  other  than  the  PDS  Scheme  and  in particular for the purpose of distribution of  foodgrains, etc. and  cooking fuel, such as kerosene. The Aadhaar card may also be used for  the  purpose of the LPG Distribution Scheme;
  4. The  information  about  an  individual  obtained   by   the   Unique Identification Authority of India while issuing an Aadhaar  card  shall  not be used for any other purpose, save as above, except as may be  directed  by a Court for the purpose of criminal investigation.
From the above four points, a clarification from a lay perspective is this. Is the third point in the interim order to be read in conjunction with the first two points (that seems to be the preferred interpretation if the first two points are a logical priority) or independent of the first two points (that may be preferred by those implementing these schemes)?

If one goes by the logical priority interpretation then it means that the Government of India can use Aadhaar to facilitate the distribution of foodgrains and kerosene under the public distribution scheme (PDS) or they may use it for the purpose of the liquified petroleum gas (LPG) distribution scheme. However, absence of Aadhaar cannot be a basis to deny any benefits under these schemes otherwise due to a citizen.

It may be recalled that the Government of India has already linked the distribution of subsidies under LPG with an Aadhaar card linked to a bank account. If this status quo has to continue in line with the interpretation that would be preferred by the implementing agencies then those without an Aadhaar card would be denied the subsidies under the LPG distribution scheme. However, even under the implementing agency interpretation, the denial of an LPG connection to those without an Aadhaar Card will be in contravention of the second point in the interim order.

It would help the lay public if legal luminaries can clarify this. Till it is done, the differences between the logical priority and implementing practicalities will continue.

Some of my earlier blogs on Aadhaar are:

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