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The Central government commenced its defence of Aadhaar in the Supreme Court today by pitching the principle of ‘economic distributive justice’ against the issue of privacy.
Attorney General KK Venugopal argued that ‘Right to Life’ involves ‘Right to Food and Dignity’, along with privacy. Hence, the right of over 300 million underprivileged people cannot be done away with, because ‘another class’ has apprehensions of privacy.
Venugopal submitted before the Constitution Bench headed by the Chief Justice Dipak Misra that Right to life is not just about surviving with animalistic instinct but it envisions that a person should live with dignity and respect as well. He added that the Aadhaar scheme helps deliver food and other basic needs of a person.
He submitted that during the British era and post-independence, the country was struck by massive levels of poverty and corruption and that the government has made vital efforts to bring it down.
Arguing further in the matter, he apprised the Court that Aadhaar data is stored behind 13 feet high and 5 feet wide walls in servers maintained by the Central Identities Data Repository (CIDR). He added that a four-minute video demonstrating the infrastructure can be played with the consent of the Court to allay fears of data security.
It was his submission that so far as the issue of invasion of an individual’s privacy is concerned, the architecture of the Aadhaar scheme was designed in such a way that it ensures that there is the lowest level of invasion into the realm of privacy. He added that a handful of petitioners are claiming the ground of privacy to strike down Aadhaar, which acts as an enabler of various facets of the right to life including the right to food, right to receive pension and other social welfare schemes.
This argument of the Attorney General prompted the Bench to put forth a series of questions. Justice DY Chandrachud observed,
“There is no antithesis between political guarantees versus economic distributive justice. It is not that privacy is just for one segment of the population and the same offers economic benefits for the others.”
Expressing his agreement with Justice Chandrachud, Chief Justice Dipak Misra observed,
“You mean to say that for economic distributive justice, right to privacy can be infringed in a reasonable manner?”
Replying to the questions of the Bench, the Attorney General submitted that no individual has come to the Court addressing that her fundamental rights were violated. Arguing further, he submitted that the Aadhaar scheme was purely voluntary from 2009-16, and therefore, the question of violating fundamental rights does not arise.
Justice Chandrachud commented that during 2009-16, no one was aware that there were no safeguards in the scheme. He further remarked that no one agreed to reveal a part of their personality, to which the AG submitted that no individual has complained of not getting the benefits so far.
As the hearing progressed, Venugopal submitted various reports which included the report of the World Bank, examples of other countries that have adopted similar identification system, excerpts from the Economic Survey, and reports of the United Nations.
He submitted that the Aadhaar scheme and the Act are to ensure seamless delivery of benefits. Addressing the issue of not getting benefits and subsidies in the absence of an Aadhaar, he submitted that a person is not devoid of any benefits if they are not in possession of Aadhaar.
He also told the Court that in order to explain the technical aspects concerning Aadhaar, a presentation has been prepared by the CEO of the UIDAI. He sought the permission of the Court to demonstrate the same, to which the bench replied that they would allow it at a later stage.
The Attorney General will resume his submissions tomorrow.
Read Centre’s written submissions.