New Delhi: A plea questioning the legality of data collection under the Aadhaar scheme was taken up today by the Supreme Court, which asked the government to make its stand clear on the issue concerning the erstwhile UPA regime's flagship programme.
A bench headed by Chief Justice HL Dattu, which did not issue a notice to the government on the plea, asked Solicitor General Ranjit Kumar to apprise it of the stand of the Centre and fixed the matter for further hearing on February 13.
Senior advocate Gopal Subramanium, appearing for Mathew Thomas who has filed the PIL through lawyer Aishwarya Bhati, said all personal details of citizens were being sought in violation of fundamental rights enshrined in the Constitution.
The PIL sought quashing of the gazette notification of January 28, 2009 by the Planning Commission on the matter. It also sought a direction to the Centre and the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) to destroy all the information collected pursuant to the notification.
After the notification, the UIDAI, which was not even a statutory body, had rolled out Unique ID (UID) scheme called "Aadhaar" for collection of personal data of Indian citizens, it claimed.
Various government bodies have also made availing of essential services, even withdrawal of salary, contingent upon possession of the Aadhaar card, The plea said. It alleged that collection of data was being done by agencies whose "security credentials are not scrutinized thoroughly" and the Aadhaar card is being issued even to illegal migrants, enabling them to avail services of central government which are meant exclusively for Indian citizens.
"The avowed objectives of UID scheme are itself farcical and the entire exercise is nothing but colossal waste of public money and exposes India's vulnerabilities," it said. The plea maintained that the UID project affected and abridged the rights of citizens, while the government did not have sufficient material to "come to the conclusion that such an incursion on the rights of the citizens was necessary."
The scheme has come under severe judicial criticism in the past, with even the apex court staying the government's decision to link Aadhaar with the grant of subsidy, including that on LPG cylinders. The plea also said that Section 14-A of the Citizenship Act be declared "ultravires" as collection of personal data under the National Population Register was violative of Article 14 and Articles 21 of the Constitution. It is not prescribed as to what extent private information of citizens would be required and this issue has been left to the discretion of executive, the plea said.
The petition said the act of establishment of UIDAI could not have been done by a mere approval of the "Empowered Group of Ministers" which is not even a body recognized under the Constitution.
"All acts affecting rights and liberties of an individual are to be necessarily backed by law, legislated by Parliament. In the instant, neither the creation of the Planning Commission nor the creation of UIDAI under its aegis is products of legislative process," the petition said.
It further said the conduct of Centre, Planning Commission and UIDAI have jeopardized the privacy of citizens. The petition further said that the objective of UID to have a "universal" database of all Indian residents cannot be achieved until and unless the government encroaches upon the fundamental and core private rights, and therefore, UIDAI is required to be statutorily provided.
"There are no provisions in the UIDAI to even apprise the people of India of the consequences of such enrollment and how it affects legal rights of individuals," the petition said. It said that despite the orders of apex court, Centre has not changed its enrollment process to sift out illegal immigrants. Various state governments were also making the enrolment into Aadhaar scheme a mandatory requirement by indirect methods like linking a person's attendance to UID.
"Without checks and balances and utter disregard of Constitutional morality and principle of constitutionalism, the Respondents are proceeding with the Aadhaar Scheme which is wholly unsustainable and laden with fraud on the people of
India," it said.
It has also sought direction for delinking of all the biometric and demographic details linked to the bank accounts under the Aadhaar Scheme and under Section 14-A of the Citizenship Act.