Stating that the government cannot insist on a mandatory Aadhaar even for Tatkal passports, the Supreme Court has included Tatkal passports among the deadlines for Aadhaar linking with various services and extended the  deadline that indefinitely till the conclusion of the case. Linking Aadhaar now with various non-welfare services cannot be made mandatory till the case is disposed off.

The requirement of Aadhaar for delivery of welfare-related services will remain till the case concludes. This exception has taken activists aback, as denial of rights and deprivation, including starvation deaths have been key arguments against the mandatory linking of Aadhaar with welfare services.

Attorney General had requested the exclusion of welfare schemes from the relief being granted by the Supreme Court, even as he had filed an affidavit claiming that the government has already issued circulars to the effect that no one should be denied their entitlements for lack of Aadhaar and other documents would be accepted if someone did not have an Aadhaar. It is unclear why the AG asked for this exception, if as per the government claims citizens could already receive entitlements without Aadhaar. It is equally inexplicable that the Supreme Court made an exception in relief in the one area with the greatest human toll.

Read the original order.

Rethink Aadhaar Statement on the Supreme Court Constitution Bench’s Interim Order

SC extending Aadhaar linking deadline indefinitely for only banking, mobile leaves most vulnerable with no protection for privacy or basic rights to welfare

The Interim Order issued by the Supreme Court today has come as a grave disappointment, given the large scale exclusion and cases of starvation deaths reported due to Aadhaar, the biometrics-linked resident ID, from the poorest districts of the country.

The Court on Tuesday extended the deadline for linking Aadhaar only for banking and mobile services, for which the Aadhaar linking deadline so far was coming up on March 31, 2018. It is expected that with respect to PAN linking, the previous orders from June 2017 will apply.

Worryingly, in line with a request by the Attorney General in court today, the deadline was not relaxed for notifications under Section 7 of the Aadhaar Act, 2016 that practically make it a requirement to link Aadhaar for people to continue to have access to 139 crucial welfare schemes, several of which are citizens’ legal rights.

These include a essential services such as mid-day meals for children, food subsidies under the National Food Security Act, the Right to Education for children upto 14 years, disability, widows’ and old age pensions, scholarships for Dalit and Adivasi students, teachers’ and health workers’ stipends, maternity benefits under Janani Suraksha Yojana, and a wide range of welfare schemes.

Though today’s orders say that previous orders remain in force that provide exemptions for food security benefits when biometric authentication fails, the evidence is that these orders from October and December have been completely ignored by government departments, with UIDAI, the agency managing the database, continuing to push for making Aadhaar mandatory in every aspect of life, and forcing seeding, linking Aadhaar numbers across databases, violating citizens’ right to privacy and security. These circulars on which today’s court order refers to have remained ineffective and failed to alleviate our distress on the ground when Aadhaar authentication regularly fails.

Today’s order says the deadline for mobile and bank linking have been extended till the final judgement of the court. As such no time can be prescribed, but one indicative date may be October 2, when the current Chief Justice of India’s tenure ends.

The petitioners’ advocates will now push for these Section 7 notifications to be covered under the indefinite extension as well, and not limit relief only for bank and mobile customers.

Despite Aadhaar being presented as a voluntary scheme since 2009, two successive prime ministers have forced citizens to submit their biometrics to access essential services. They have done this by making the most basic services for vulnerable citizens available only to those who pass the biometric authentication test, armtwisting citizens to enroll in the database operated without any legal framework while the data was collected.

Today’s order has failed to provide these most vulnerable citizens of the country little protection or relief from disruption of the legal right and access to even basic social services.

SFLC statement

SFLC is among those reporting the proceedings in the case life from the Supreme Court. They published the following statement on their Facebook page today.

“In an interim order issued earlier today in the matter of K.S. Puttaswamy v. Union of India, the Supreme Court extended the deadline for linking various services and subsidies to Aadhaar until the final disposal of the matter. In the order, the five-judge Constitution Bench reiterated paragraphs 11 to 13 of its previous interim order that had extended the deadline to March 31, 2018, and further extended the deadline until final disposal.

However, it is important to note that today’s order does not apply to those services and subsidies, where Aadhaar linkage was made mandatory under Section 7 of the Aadhaar Act. If mandatory linkages under Section 7 are in fact excluded, a large number of Central and State Government schemes (such as PDS, LPG, MNREGA and many more) would still need to be linked to Aadhaar by the end of the month. This significantly diminishes the relief brought by today’s order, as a vast number of residents will still effectively be forced to enroll for Aadhaar even before the apex court has made a determination as to its constitutional validity.”

“The Supreme Court’s judgment in the matter of Binoy Viswam v. Union of India continues to govern the issue of Aadhaar-PAN linkage i.e. Aadhaar is mandatory for obtaining new PAN cards and filing tax returns. The judgment also says that those who do not already have Aadhaar cards need not link their existing PAN cards with Aadhaar, but Aadhaar-card-holders must link their existing PAN cards with Aadhaar, failing which their PAN cards will be deemed prospectively invalid. The deadline for Aadhaar-card-holders to link their PAN cards will also be extended until disposal of K.S. Puttaswamy v. Union of India as this linkage was mandated by Section 139AA of the Income Tax Act and not Section 7 of the Aadhaar Act which was excluded from today’s interim order.”

Statement by Right To Food Campaign

13 March 2018 Supreme Court Order on Aadhaar: A Blow to Welfare

The Right to Food Campaign is deeply disappointed by the 13 March 2018 Supreme Court order which extends the deadline for Aadhaar linking of facilities such as bank accounts and SIM cards, but permits the continued imposition of Aadhaar on social services and entitlements such as the public distribution system (PDS), the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (NREGA) and social security pensions. This order perpetuates a long-standing double standard, whereby the hardships experienced by privileged classes due to Aadhaar being made mandatory are being addressed while much greater hardships endured by poor people are ignored.

From September 2017 to January 2018, at least ten persons across three states died of starvation due to reasons directly connected with Aadhaar. These persons were denied their legal entitlements to ration/pension either because their ration card was not linked with Aadhaar or because of failures in Aadhaar-based biometric authentication.

In a recent public hearing in Delhi, more than 400 people from different districts and marginalised communities of the national capital testified about their inability to access their legal entitlements of rations and pensions due to mandatory linking of Aadhaar. Last year, in a similar public hearing in Bengaluru, people from across Karnataka shared the various problems they were facing in accessing social security entitlements, rations as well as health services.

In 2017, according to data put out by state food departments, in Rajasthan 33 lakh families were unable to access their Public Distribution System (PDS) ration entitlement each month due to the linkage of the PDS with Aadhaar. Similarly, in Jharkhand, 25 lakh families were deprived of their grain entitlements on a monthly basis. Even in areas (e.g., Ranchi District) where the integration had been in place for over a year, the rate of non-transacting households was high.

The damage caused by Aadhaar is not limited to the PDS. Recipients of social security payments, such as NREGA workers, social security pensioners and scholarship holders, are also suffering due to this application. Many such payments get credited in others’ accounts due to errors in Aadhaar seeding. People’s pensions have been stopped because their Aadhaar numbers are not seeded, or cannot be seeded; in some cases, old people whose biometrics do not match are also denied their entitlements (rations, pensions, etc). In one village in Badauli block, Sarguja District, Chhattisgarh 124 old people were not able to access their old age pensions as the village did not have network connectivity. Such denials of entitlements are in fact in violation of the right to life and must be penalised.

Despite some token safeguards being introduced recently in some of welfare schemes in response to Aadhaar-related starvation deaths and other tragedies, in practice Aadhaar linkage and (in some cases) even Aadhaar-based biometric authentication are still compulsory for a wide range of welfare schemes and basic entitlements. The exclusion problems created by this compulsion have been abundantly documented in a long series of media reports, statistical analyses, public hearings, testimonies, videos, tweets, and other records.

Aadhaar is unable to reduce “quantity fraud” – the most important form of leakage from welfare programmes. Also, many other reforms that predate the integration of welfare programmes with Aadhaar have succeeded to reduce corruption from these programmes. Nevertheless, the government persists in its obsessive imposition of Aadhaar on every possible scheme. Instead of acknowledging the very limited role of Aadhaar in improving welfare but the widespread damage caused by this integration, it fabricates and propagates its own evidence of alleged Aadhaar-enabled savings to defuse the opposition.

The Right to Food Campaign feels that by putting all the focus on Aadhaar, the government is distracting attention from the real reforms required in these programmes –increase in the quantum of support through greater allocation of resources, streamlining of delivery mechanisms and activating systems for transparency, accountability and grievance redress. For example, there is an urgent need to universalise the PDS, introduce pulses and oil in it, introduce eggs and other nutritious items in the midday meals and anganwadi programmes, increase in the rates of NREGA wages, social security pensions and maternity entitlements and timely payment of these transfers, and so on. We demand that all the notifications linking Aadhaar with welfare programmes (PDS, NREGA, social security pensions, midday meals, , anganwadi services, maternity entitlements etc) be immediately withdrawn.