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Listing Aadhaar’s utilities, attorney general K K Venugopal said it functioned as an impeccable identity authentication tool to effectively prevent use of multiple identities to siphon off financial benefits meant for people living below the poverty line, to evade tax, launder money and defraud banks of crores of rupees.
A bench of Chief Justice Dipak Misra and Justices A K Sikri, A M Khanwilkar, D Y Chandrachud and Ashok Bhushan, which was patient with the AG’s detailed reading of judgments and written submission, protested when the top law officer said Aadhaar could prevent bank frauds, a phenomenon much in discussion due to the cases of Vijay Mallya and Nirav Modi.
Sikri said, “As far as bank frauds are concerned, it is not because fraudsters used multiple identities, which Aadhaar can prevent. The banks knew the identity of the person who repeatedly borrowed and defaulted. Aadhaar may have other utilities but will not be able to stop frauds. Fraud happens because bank officials are hand in glove with borrowers… when bank officials are mixed up with fraudsters, it has to be tackled at a different level, and not through Aadhaar.”
The bench did, however, clarify: “Aadhaar does not become unconstitutional just because it cannot address all problems. Use of Aadhaar to uplift those at the bottom of the pyramid is welcome.”
The SC said despite Aadhaar’s utility, concerns remained. “The targeted persons must get financial benefits, and corrupt means need to be stopped. Problem is how far can the net be cast? Many feel Aadhaar per se may not be objectionable, but linking it to every activity is,” it said.
When the court asked the AG about apprehensions of violations of privacy, he said Aadhaar had enrolled over 1.2 billion people and they had given biometrics voluntarily. “The biometrics are stored in the safest manner possible. Those who give biometrics voluntarily cannot complain about privacy violation. Moreover, Aadhaar is an enabler of right to life like food and shelter to millions of impoverished. Surely, when one uses Aadhaar to get these basic elements to sustain life, he could not be seen complaining about violation of right to privacy,” he said.
The bench termed this a “Marxist argument”, as it amounted to saying “if you are getting food and shelter, you keep quiet about violation of other rights”. It suggested that the AG stick to the argument that Aadhaar, an enabler of food and shelter to the poor, invaded privacy to the minimum level. Arguments will continue on Tuesday.