New Delhi: Indicating that the government may take remedial measures to enable private entities to use Aadhaar data, finance minister Arun Jaitley on Wednesday said his understanding of the Supreme Court verdict on the validity of the scheme was that such linkage has been barred because of absence of a legislative backing for it.
Asserting that some of the prohibitions imposed by the court cannot be assumed to be perpetual, Jaitley said the government would assess whether the SC junked Aadhaar-based authentication by banks and mobile firms due to procedural concerns.
“Section 57 (of the Aadhaar Act that has been struck down by the Supreme Court) says that there can be special enabling power to allow other entities or body corporate (to use Aadhaar). I can give you my information (about the judgment). That is not permissible unless it is backed up by law. That seems to be the spirit of the judgment," he said.
He assured that the government has every intention to go by this judgment, but would explore its options wherever there is scope.
The Supreme Court while upholding the Constitutional validity of Aadhaar flagged privacy concerns and reined in a government push to make it mandatory for everything from banking to telecom services. It cleared its use for government welfare schemes.
Replying to questions about the apex court saying no corporate body can seek Aadhaar data, he said, "Don't assume that it is perpetually prohibited. It may be temporary. The Court has only disallowed Aadhaar in some of these cases which is not backed by law."
“The judicial review gives us the dos and don'ts about the law. The Court, while upholding the core of the legislation and principal purposes for which it was brought, has made certain observations… Some may be areas where you can't go in and some may be areas where they say it has to be backed by law," Jaitley said.
He said the court has ruled that private entities cannot demand Aadhaar data backed by contract but it was yet to be figured out if it was unconstitutional if backed by law.
"So let us first read the judgment. There are 2-3 prohibited areas. Are they because they are totally prohibited or are they because they need legal backing. So my answer in general, the generic answer will depend on what is the rationale. That's my understanding. I still have a detailed reading of the judgment to do,” he said.
He said the whole concept of having a unique identification number has been accepted after judicial scrutiny. "It is an extremely welcome decision," he said.
Jaitley said that Aadhaar linkage to welfare schemes of the government has enabled annual saving of Rs 90,000 crore by eliminating "duplicate and non-existent beneficiaries" and this, in turn, has allowed both the Centre and the states to spend this money for the benefit of the poor. He said 122 crore people had Aadhaar cards in the country.
His colleague, law and IT minister Ravi Shankar Prasad, who was also at the press conference, said four out of five judges had upheld the legality of Aadhaar and it has far-reaching consequences.
He said the government will hold inter-ministerial consultation to assess the impact of the judgment and action will be taken thereafter.
"The government will take a comprehensive view as to what is doable and required to be done. Obviously this will require inter-ministerial consultation at the highest level," Prasad told reporters.
When asked that if individuals can get their Aadhaar details deleted from the database of bank and telecom companies, Prasad said that their enough security safeguards already in place in the act to prevent misuse of the data collected by private entities.
"Any authentication was done by private company it was done for specific purpose. They were required to maintain sanctity of that storage. Any misuse of that storage is punishable with 3 years’ imprisonment and Rs 10 lakh in fine," Prasad said.
He added that the government was committed to a robust data protection regime and a draft law will be put in public domain by the end of this month.
Jailtey also attacked the Congress, saying it "has cut a sorry figure" on Aadhaar, noting that the party had introduced the concept but later some of its leaders became its critics.
"Some people are advocating that don't have UID. Let the impersonation and duplication of identity go on. Do not have EVMs (electronic voting machines) and digital economy, cash should remain as the main instrument of trade," he said.
"You can see the thread running through this thought process but everyone including critics of Aadhhar should realise that we cannot afford to defy or ignore technology," he added.