In the final hearings on the Aadhaar project in the Supreme Court, the Attorney General’s main (perhaps only) line of defence is that the court must ‘balance’ the right to life of millions, which he claims is guaranteed by Aadhaar, with the right to privacy. This is perhaps the first time that the government acknowledges that the right to privacy is compromised by the Aadhaar project. This is an important admission.
There are, however, several other problems with this line of argument. Aadhaar is a direct assault on the ‘right to life’ of many in the sense that pre-existing benefits (rations, pensions etc.) have now become contingent upon Aadhaar. Our research and government data suggests that the number of affected people is in hundreds of thousands. Earlier, to get rations, people were only at the mercy of the dealer; now they are additionally at the mercy of point of sale (PoS) machines, servers, electricity supply and fingerprint authentication. If any of these does not work, they have to send another family member or return themselves another time. Similar stories abound with social security pensions (for example, Mangri in the picture). It is bizarre that while Aadhaar in fact harms the poor, it is positioned by the government as a tool that ’empowers’ them.
Even if one were to grant (for the sake of argument) that Aadhaar plays an enabling role in delivering welfare and admit the hypothetical possibility that a trade-off exists between the two rights (to life and to privacy), Justice Chandrachud’s privacy judgment in 2017 is a resounding rejection of that proposition: “Civil and political rights and socioeconomic rights do not exist in a state of antagonism.” In fact, he stated that the idea that one is ‘subservient’ to the other “has been urged in the past and has been categorically rejected”.
Several commentators have argued that the ‘right to privacy’ is elitist. Of which, Justice Chandrachud says, “The submission that the right to privacy is an elitist construct which stands apart from the needs and aspirations of the large majority constituting the rest of society, is unsustainable.” Further, he says, “We need to also emphasise the lack of substance in the submission that privacy is a privilege for the few. Every individual in society, irrespective of social class or economic status, is entitled to the intimacy and autonomy which privacy protects.”
In fact, the right to privacy is of greatest value to ordinary citizens, as it plays a key role in enabling informed choices. Indeed, Justice Chandrachud wrote that the “refrain” that the poor are concerned only with economic well-being “has been utilised through history to wreak the most egregious violations of human rights”. The right to question, scrutinise and dissent enables us “to scrutinise the actions of government” and “to make informed decisions on basic issues”. Voting decisions and attempts at fixing accountability (say, through the Right to Information Act), will be compromised if they do not remain impervious to the government’s all-seeing glare.
Justice Chandrachud’s judgment clearly states that the “dignity of the individual” is among the “foundational pillars of the Indian Constitution”. Pensions provide dignity to the elderly. Even the meagre Rs 200-1,000 that is given as pension ensures that the elderly are not completely abandoned by their families. NREGA does the same by providing work and wages to the able-bodied. PDS rations, too, by ensuring that people do not have to sleep hungry or beg, allow the disadvantaged a life of dignity. There are many like Mangri Pahnain who have been cut off from essential social support due to Aadhaar. Integrating welfare delivery with Aadhaar is the antithesis of a life with dignity.
Source by:- indiatoday