On Tuesday, the Supreme Court of India extended the deadline for everyone to mandatorily link Aadhaar number to mobile phones and bank accounts. The Supreme Court, however, allowed the Central government to make it mandatory for direct benefit transfer of such social schemes where the government gives subsidy. The Supreme Court decision has come as a big relief to the common man who was hard pressed to link their Aadhaar data with mobile phones and bank accounts. While linking Aadhaar number to mobile phones is an easier exercise, linking Aadhaar number with bank accounts, however, was turning out to be a tough task. Banks were asking their customers to go to their original bank branch for linking of Aadhaar numbers. The government had earlier made December 31 as the deadline for linking of Aadhaar data but the Supreme Court had extended the deadline to March 31. Now the Supreme Court has extended the deadline indefinitely till it pronounces its verdict in the matter. The legality of the government making the linkage of Aadhaar data mandatory for mobile phone connections and bank accounts has been challenged in the Supreme Court.
Ever since Aadhaar was introduced, it has faced opposition from different quarters. Critics of Aadhaar maintain that Aadhaar collects too much information about an individual's identity. It collects biometric as well as demographic information. So far the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) has issued 1.2 billion Aadhaar numbers to as many individuals. The Central government wants to make it mandatory for availing any government plan as well as services such as mobile phones, bank accounts, passports, etc. But the fact that someone can be denied social benefits for not producing an Aadhaar number has made the courts and the states doubtful about the real intention of Aadhaar. Another criticism of Aadhaar is that the personal biometric data taken by UIDAI may not be safe or it may be exposed to data hackers. International experts have repeatedly cautioned India to be careful about the safety of Aadhaar data. Amid the fear that international spying agencies may be data mining on Aadhaar, UIDAI has been saying that the Aadhaar data is completely safe with UIDAI.
The Central government looks bullish on Aadhaar and want to make it mandatory for everything. But despite robust enrollments, Aadhaar has not been made available to every citizen of the country. There are many who still have to receive their Aadhaar number. If such people are denied benefits of Centrally sponsored government schemes, who are to blame? And if they are not able to get a new mobile connection or open a bank account, who will be responsible for such a situation. The government may not be interested to answer this question, but the courts can not abdicate their responsibility to protect individual's rights. And it is the court that's putting their foot down on the overzealousness of the government.
There is no doubt that Aadhaar is highly useful in eliminating the middleman and the corruption that dogged every government scheme meant for the poor. By directly transferring the money to the intended person's bank accounts, the Aadhaar helps the government in disbursing the social benefits evenly and without any corruption. This is a brilliant departure from a scenario where only 15 per cent of the money reached the intended person in the past and 85 per cent of the money would go to the middleman or get lost in corruption. Despite promising government schemes, the governments in the past were never sure if the benefits reached the targeted persons. The payments to the rural workforce under Mahatma Gandhi Rural Employment Guarantee Act 2005 have been fair and without complaints. The credit must go to Aadhaar, which linked the individuals with their bank accounts. Aadhaar has many benefits but protecting the personal information of the people is of critical significance. The government has a duty to see that no one is deprived of the government or social benefits because he does not have an Aadhaar number.