from the I-am-not-a-12-digit-number dept
Last month, we wrote about attempts by the Indian government to make Aadhaar, the country's identity number system, mandatory. This was despite repeated rulings by the Indian Supreme Court that it should not be compulsory for government schemes. Last month, another application was made to the court, asking it once more to forbid the Indian government from requiring the Aadhaar card and a unique 12-digit identification number for its services. During the case, India's Attorney-General, Mukul Rohatgi, made the following remarkable assertion, reported here by Hindustan Times:
"[India's] Constitution makers did not intend to make right to privacy a fundamental right," Rohatgi told the bench, during the hearing of petitions opposing a government order that made the 12-number unique identification number mandatory, especially for seeking government welfare benefits.
As the site Scroll.in explains:
The Attorney General quoted two decisions in support of his proposition -- from 1954 and 1963. Those opposing his argument contended that these decisions had been overtaken by the constitutional jurisprudence that had since evolved.
But as well as his purely legalistic arguments, Rohatgi took another, very different angle, telling the court:
It should balance the petitioner's rights against those of the roughly 700 million people, whose subsidies and welfare benefits were dependent on the "fool-proof scheme."
Despite this emotional blackmail -- give up your privacy, or 700 million people will go hungry -- the Indian Supreme Court's interim order confirmed that:
It is not mandatory for a citizen to obtain an Aadhaar card
the production of an Aadhaar card will not be a condition for obtaining any benefits otherwise due to a citizen.
However, the Supreme Court did allow the Aadhaar card and number to be used for a few specific government schemes: those for "distributing foodgrains and cooking fuel, such as kerosene." So perhaps people won't want for food or fuel even if campaigners continue to insist that privacy most certainly is a fundamental right, and that making Aadhaar mandatory would infringe upon it.