The Supreme Court’s judgment holding the 12-digit biometrics-based Aadhaar project “constitutionally valid” is a balanced view as it will help governments plug leakages in administering schemes while restricting the possibility of data mining by the private sector.
Validation of the Aadhaar Act by the Supreme Court would check corruption, eliminate middlemen and prevent leakage of public money used for direct transfer benefit, said BJP MP from Karnataka and a petitioner, Rajeev Chandrasekhar.
“The judgment will ensure that corruption and leakage in the use of public money will be put to an end in the system,” said Chandrasekhar, a Rajya Sabha member, in a statement.
Earlier in the day, a 5-member constitution bench, headed by Chief Justice Dipak Misra, upheld the validity of the Aadhaar Targeted Delivery of Financial and other Subsidies, Benefits and Services Act, 2016, with modifications.
“The verdict addresses the main concern of citizens and corrects the imbalance in the Act vis-a-vis UIDAI, which will evolve into a transparent accountable institution of the state,” said the city-based Chandrasekhar.
The state-run Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) is a statutory body set up in 2009 by the former UPA government under the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology to issue the 12-digit unique number for the resident citizens of the country.
UIDAI’s approach was different from that of the government’s other departments that issue identity documents. There was no verification of documents submitted as the system was based on the concept that biometrics don’t cheat. Minimum demographic information of an individual was taken for the purpose of de-duplication to create a unique number that was valid across India.
The exercise was massive as 1.2 billion had to be provided with a unique number in less than 10 years (as per resolution of the National Development Council) and, as expected, UIDAI faced some teething problems. Some enrolment agencies did not adhere to UIDAI protocols, resulting in allegations of corruption. There were some technical glitches that resulted in the rejection of enrollments (less than two percent) and some states governments erroneously displayed Aadhaar number of beneficiaries on digital platforms.
Aadhaar’s aim is to transparently deliver the benefits of welfare schemes worth Rs 10 lakh crore in 2017-18 (the spending on 20 major schemes by the Centre and the states ). Even 10% leakage would mean a loss of Rs 1 lakh crore annually. Even as it sought to do this, Aadhaar did exclude some in states such as Jharkhand and Rajasthan, but now has in place strong protocols to ensure such exclusions do not happen.
Aadhaar was a concept introduced by the Congress-led UPA and implemented across schemes by the BJP-led NDA. The order of the constitution bench should end the debate over Aadhaar’s validity and the two major political parties should come together to use technology for poverty alleviation and checking corruption.