Deciphering the Aadhaar verdict

by Nayantara Ranganathan

Alternative Law Forum, the Internet Democracy Project and the Right to Food campaign of Karnataka organised a public meeting on the Aadhaar verdict, which was delivered in September this year. The meeting was intended to be a forum to discuss the 1448 pages long judgment, which deals with the issues in the batch of 38 petitions before the court. The batch of petitions challenge the constitutionality of various aspects of the Aadhaar program and the Targeted Delivery of Subsidies, Benefits and Services (Aadhaar) Act of 2016. Petitioners, legal researchers, technologists and affected persons attended the meeting.

Usha Ramanathan, prominent legal expert said that the judgment effectively creates two classes of persons within the citizenry: those who have fundamental rights and those who do not. She recalled that the Puttaswamy case, in which nine judges of the supreme Court unanimously ruled that the right to privacy was a fundamental right under the Constitution and an inalienable right, was totally disregarded in considering the constitutionality of the Aadhaar Act.

Since the time that the judgement was delivered, cases of exclusion from welfare schemes continue to take place, although the judgement mentions that there can be no denial of benefits or subsidies on the grounds of Aadhaar, said Siraj Dutta. Dutta is a researcher who has conducted fact-finding studies in Jharkhand, the state with the largest number of Aadhaar-related starvation deaths.

Nagesh from Chintamani Taluk noted the difficulties in the taluk for the 40 dalit families who could not avail of rations for over 2 years, and the boycott action they jointly conducted, which led to taluk and state level authorities taking note of the matter, and re-activated ration cards even if they were not linked with Aadhaar. Umesh from Ujjampura taluk also shared grievances on the ground due to the coercive imposition of Aadhaar for availing benefits and subsidies.

Professor Anupam Saraph, also a petitioner in the case, mentioned his findings through Right to Information requests, where he argued that the number of Aadhaar holders does not square with any combination of numbers of primary IDs (like voter ID, PAN card, Ration card, Driving License). He also pointed out that the Aadhaar proof of identity does not have any certifying authority who may be held responsible for ID fraud, which was not taken up by the Court, although the matter was before them.

The meeting concluded with discussing the next steps before the courts, as well as planning for concrete actions that might alleviate the ground realities of exclusion.