The Supreme Court’s order trashing the UPA government’s Aadhaar card logic and declaring it not mandatory is a welcome development that puts a break on the reckless scheme that the state had been hell bent on rolling out all over the country. The apex court’s rap on the centre and clearly saying that the card must not be a necessary requirement to avail government welfare schemes, is a relief for many who had been at the receiving end of the project, given that the possession of the card, although not mandatory, had been linked to obtain almost every state benefits and subsidy, whether they were gas connections, vehicle registration, scholarships, marriage registration, salaries or provident fund. Moreover, that the unique identity (UID), or Aadhaar, scheme didn’t actually have parliamentary sanction, and had even been discarded by a parliamentary standing committee in 2010, speaks volume on the shaky premise upon which the enormous edifice of UID has been erected by the government. The apex court’s order comes at the right time since millions of people have not only faced the brunt of trying to avail welfare schemes through UID, but also have gone through the massive bureaucratic hurdles to even obtain one. Although the UIDAI, headed by Nandan Nilekani, claims that it has issued UID numbers to 429.6 million people already, there have been several reports in the media that detail the harrowing experience people have gone through in their bid to receive the Aadhaar card, which the government posits as the passport to availing the much-hyped benefits, especially direct cash transfer to the bank accounts in lieu of the subsidies. In addition, even though the premise of the UID is to ‘eliminate’ leakages and forgery of identity in state welfare schemes and to ensure transparency in their day-to-day execution, the scheme is simply not full-proof to avoid cyber crimes or identity thefts.
Aadhaar has already been in controversy from the outset because of its blatantly illegal drive to collect biometric data of individuals that are direct threats to citizens’ privacy. Amassing sensitive information through methods such as iris scan or fingerprint not only puts individual’s privacy at the mercy of the faceless bureaucracy, it also lays open the floodgates of power that the state can exercise over the individual, effectively curbing all dissent or potent challenge to the regime. While civil rights activists have highlighted how the UID is tied to creating an all-pervasive system of surveillance, the political opposition have pointed out how the UID is connected to UPA’s vote-catching schemes, which, even if pro-people, are rendered toothless because of the massive loopholes and rampant corruption eating them from within. Clearly, UPA’s idea of making its welfare projects inter-connected and inter-dependent falls flat, since it attempts a one-size-fits-all strategy to tackle the multifarious problems and deficits that are facing the people in need of benefits and their complex requirements. Hence, the unconstitutionality of the Aadhaar scheme notwithstanding, and the political ambitions of Nandan Nilekani aside, UID is a legislative blunder in the garb of a peoples’ project, exposing them to unimaginable governmental intrusion and erecting a monument of state opacity that can do anything with the information on hand. Moreover, SC advice that UID be not issued to illegal immigrants is further proof that having an Aadhaar card is no guarantee to preservation of liberty, or even national security, since it has been demonstrated that people with dubious backgrounds could manage to obtain the UID that is supposedly the final say on identity. With a potential to seriously threaten confidentiality of information, as well as derail sensitive governmental operations in case subjected to online tampering, Aadhaar is basically a UPA front to showcase its other projects, but hardly the panacea to eliminate corruption.