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A day before a nine-judge Bench of the Supreme Court of India decides whether or not Indian citizens have a fundamental right to privacy (Justice KS Puttaswamy (Retd.) & Anr. v. Union of India & Ors ), one particular individual is waiting with bated breath.
That man is former Karnataka High Court judge, Justice KS Puttaswamy, the man who set things in motion with his petition filed in 2012.
Five years later, more than twenty other petitions have been tagged with his, all challenging various aspects of the Aadhaar scheme, including the right to privacy. It was in Justice Puttaswamy’s petition that the Supreme Court, in August 2015, had passed an order making it clear that Aadhaar could not be made mandatory for availing services.
The former judge does not agree with the central government, which on one of these hearings, declared that there is no fundamental right to privacy.
“It is a fundamental right. If you don’t have a right to privacy, what stops a policeman from coming to your home and disturbing you at night?”
Despite his age, the 91-year-old Justice Puttaswamy has kept close tabs on the arguments in the Supreme Court. He echoes Attorney General KK Venugopal’s submission that determining what the right to privacy encompasses is a daunting task.
“A right to privacy exists, but deciding its parameters and restrictions is a very difficult thing. Lawyers and judges have not contemplated its dimensions until now. So, what tomorrow’s judgment will be, is anybody’s guess.”
On the topic of Aadhaar, he says,
“Aadhaar encroaches on the right to privacy to some extent, not 100%. I was the first to challenge the executive order which brought the Aadhaar Act. It is a very tricky Act. That matter will be dealt with separately, by the new Chief Justice of India.”
Despite knocking on the Supreme Court’s door, he believes that the courts should not be used as means to create new rights.
“The Court cannot find all the solutions. My solution is this: the central government must be requested to enact a law. The Supreme Court was expected to be a Constitutional court. Unfortunately, for a variety of reasons, it has not been able to be one. Our Supreme Court’s time is taken mostly by petty matters.”
Like most of us, the nonagenarian is on the edge of his seat ahead of tomorrow’s pronouncement. Before I leave, he offers to decode the judgment (“it will be 500-600 pages”) after it comes out. He says, laughingly,
“I might take more time than i used to.
What the Supreme Court will rule, I cannot say. I will also wait anxiously for the judgment. I am expecting a unanimous judgment.”