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Justice K.S. Puttaswamy (Retd.)     v.    Union of India

Supreme Court:    1448 pages:   September 26, 2018

447) The questions and their answers:

Q 1. Whether the Aadhaar Project creates or has tendency to create surveillance state and is, thus, unconstitutional on this ground?

Ans: The architecture of Aadhaar as well as the provisions of the Aadhaar Act do not tend to create a surveillance state. This is ensured by the manner in which the Aadhaar project operates.

Q 2. Whether the Aadhaar Act violates right to privacy and is unconstitutional on this ground?

Ans: (a) It is held that all matters pertaining to an individual do not qualify as being an inherent part of right to privacy. Only those matters over which there would be a reasonable expectation of privacy are protected by Article 21.

(b) The triple test laid down in order to adjudge the reasonableness of the invasion to privacy has been made. The Aadhaar scheme is backed by the statute, i.e. the Aadhaar Act. It also serves legitimate State aim: the aim in passing the Act was to ensure that social benefit schemes reach  the deserving community.

(c) Section 7 of the Aadhaar Act is aimed at offering subsidies, benefits or services to the marginalised section of the society. That also becomes an aspect of social justice, which is the obligation of the State stipulated in Para IV of the Constitution.

The rationale behind Section 7 lies in ensuring targeted delivery of services, benefits and subsidies which are funded from the Consolidated Fund of India. In discharge of its solemn Constitutional obligation to enliven the Fundamental Rights of life and personal liberty (Article 21) to ensure Justice, Social, Political and Economic and to eliminate inequality (Article 14) with a view to ameliorate the lot of the poor and the Dalits, the Central Government has launched several welfare schemes.

 (h) All this satisfies the necessity stage test, particularly in the absence of any less restrictive but equally effective alternative.

(i) Insofar as balancing is concerned, the matter is examined at two levels:

(i)Whether, ‘legitimate state interest’ ensures ‘reasonable tailoring’? There is a minimal intrusion into the privacy and the law is narrowly framed to achieve the objective.

(ii) There needs to be balancing of two competing fundamental rights, right to privacy on the one hand and right to food, shelter and employment on the other hand. Axiomatically both the rights are founded on human dignity. At the same time, in the given context, the two facets are in conflict with each other. The question here would be, when a person seeks to get the benefits of welfare schemes to which she is entitled to as a part of right to live life with dignity, whether her sacrifice to the right to privacy, is so invasive that it creates imbalance?

We are concerned with the balancing of the two facets of dignity. Here we find that the inroads into the privacy rights where these individuals are made to part with their biometric information, is minimal. It is coupled with the fact that there is no data collection on the movements of such individuals, when they avail benefits under Section 7 of the Act, thereby ruling out the possibility of creating their profiles. We, therefore, are of the opinion that the Aadhaar Act meets the test of balancing as well.

(m) As far as subsidies, services and benefits are concerned, their scope is not to be unduly expanded thereby widening the net of Aadhaar, where it is not permitted otherwise. In this respect, it is held as under:

(i) ‘Benefits’ and ‘services’ as mentioned in Section 7 should be those which have the colour of some kind of subsidies etc., namely, welfare schemes of the Government whereby Government is doling out such benefits which are targeted at a particular deprived class.

(ii) It would cover only those ‘benefits’ etc. the expenditure thereof has to be drawn from the Consolidated Fund of India.

(iii) On that basis, CBSE, NEET, JEE, UGC etc. cannot make the requirement of Aadhaar mandatory as they are outside the purview of Section 7 and are not backed by any law.

Q 3. Whether children can be brought within the sweep of Sections 7 and 8 of the Aadhaar Act?

Ans: (a) For the enrolment of children under the Aadhaar Act, it would be essential to have the consent of their parents/guardian.

 (b) On attaining the age of majority, such children who are enrolled under Aadhaar with the consent of their parents, shall be given the option to exit from the Aadhaar project if they so choose in case they do not intend to avail the benefits of the scheme.

(c) Insofar as the school admission of children is concerned, requirement of Aadhaar would not be compulsory as it is neither a service nor subsidy. Further, having regard to the fact that a child between the age of 6 to 14 years has the fundamental right to education under Article 21A, school admission cannot be treated as ‘benefit’ as well.

(d) Benefits to children between 6 to 14 years under Sarv Shiksha Abhiyan, likewise, shall not require mandatory Aadhaar enrolment.

(e) For availing the benefits of other welfare schemes which are covered by Section 7 of the Aadhaar Act, though enrolment number can be insisted, it would be subject to the consent of the parents.

 Ans to Q 4. (a) Section 2(d) which pertains to authentication records, such records would not include metadata as mentioned in Regulation 26(c). Therefore, this provision in the present form is struck down.

(b) Insofar as Section 2(b) is concerned, which defines ‘resident’, the apprehension expressed by the petitioners was that it should not lead to giving Aadhaar card to illegal immigrants. We direct the respondent to take suitable measures to ensure that illegal immigrants are not able to take such benefits.

(c) Retention of data beyond the period of six months is impermissible. Therefore, Regulation 27 of Aadhaar (Authentication) Regulations, 2016 which provides archiving a data for a period of five years is struck down.

(d) Section 29 in fact imposes a restriction on sharing information and is, therefore, valid as it protects the interests of Aadhaar number holders.

(f) Insofar as Section 33(2) is concerned, it is held that disclosure of information in the interest of national security cannot be faulted with. Section 33(2) in the present form is struck down with liberty to enact a suitable provision on the lines suggested.

(g) Insofar as Section 47 of the Act which provides for the cognizance of offence only on a complaint made by the Authority or any officer or person authorised by it is concerned, it needs a suitable amendment to include the provision for filing of such a complaint by an individual/victim as well whose right is violated.

(h) Insofar as Section 57 in the present form is concerned, it is susceptible to misuse inasmuch as: (a) It can be used for establishing the identity of an individual ‘for any purpose’. We read down this provision to mean that such a purpose has to be backed by law.

 (b) Such purpose is not limited pursuant to any law alone but can be done pursuant to ‘any contract to this effect’ as well. This is clearly impermissible as a contractual provision is not backed by a law and, therefore, first requirement of proportionality test is not met.

(c) Apart from authorising the State, even ‘any body corporate or person’ is authorised to avail authentication services which can be on the basis of purported agreement between an individual and such body corporate or person. The impact of the aforesaid features would be to enable commercial exploitation of an individual biometric and demographic information by private entities. Thus, this part of the provision which enables body corporate and individuals also to seek authentication, that too on the basis of a contract between the individual and such body corporate or person, would impinge upon the right to privacy of such individuals. This part of the section, thus, is declared unconstitutional.

Q 6. Whether the Aadhaar Act could be passed as ‘Money Bill’ within the meaning of Article 110 of the Constitution?

Ans: The petitioners accept that Section 7 of the Aadhaar Act has the elements of ‘Money Bill’. The attack is on the premise that some other provisions, namely, Sections 23(2)(h), 54(2)(m) and 57 of the Aadhaar Act do not fall under any of the clauses of Article 110 of the Constitution and, therefore, Bill was not limited to only those subjects mentioned in Article 110.

Insofar as Section 7 is concerned, it makes receipt of subsidy, benefit or service subject to establishing identity by the process of authentication under Aadhaar. The expenditure incurred in respect of such a subsidy, benefit or service would be from the Consolidated Fund of India.

The expression subsidy, benefit or service ought to be understood in the context of targeted delivery to poorer and weaker sections of society. That is the main function behind the Aadhaar Act and for this purpose, enrolment for Aadhaar number is prescribed. Residents are, thus, held entitled to obtain Aadhaar number.

We may record here that such an enrolment is of voluntary nature. However, it becomes compulsory for those who seeks to receive any subsidy, benefit or service under the welfare scheme of the Government expenditure whereof is to be met from the Consolidated Fund of India. It follows that authentication under Section 7 would be required as a condition for receipt of a subsidy, benefit or service only when such a subsidy, benefit or service is taken care of by Consolidated Fund of India.

Therefore, Section 7 is the core provision of the Aadhaar Act and this provision satisfies the conditions of Article 110 of the Constitution.

(e) On examining of the other provisions pointed out by the petitioners in an attempt to take it out of the purview of Money  Bill, we are of the view that those provisions are incidental in nature which have been made in the proper working of the Act.

In any case, a part of Section 57 has already been declared unconstitutional. We, thus, hold that the Aadhaar Act is validly passed as a ‘Money Bill’.

Q 7. Whether Section 139AA of the Income Tax Act, 1961 is violative of right to privacy and is, therefore, unconstitutional?

Ans: The matter has also been examined keeping in view that manifest arbitrariness is also a ground of challenge to the legislative enactment. Even after judging the matter in the context of permissible limits for invasion of privacy, namely: (i) the existence of a law; (ii) a ‘legitimate State interest’; and (iii) such law should pass the ‘test of proportionality’, we come to the conclusion that all these tests are satisfied..

Q 8. Whether Rule 9 of the Prevention of Money Laundering (Maintenance of Records) Rules, 2005 and the notifications issued thereunder which mandates linking of Aadhaar with bank accounts is unconstitutional?

Ans: (a) We hold that the provision in the present form does not meet the test of proportionality and, therefore, violates the right to privacy of a person which extends to banking details.

(b) This linking is made compulsory not only for opening a new bank account but even for existing bank accounts with a stipulation that if the same is not done then the account would be deactivated, with the result that the holder of the account would not be entitled to operate the bank account till the time seeding of the bank account with Aadhaar is done. This amounts to depriving a person of his property. We find that this move of mandatory linking of Aadhaar with bank account does not satisfy the test of proportionality.

To recapitulate, the test of proportionality requires that a limitation of the fundamental rights must satisfy the following to be proportionate: (i) it is designated for a proper purpose; (ii) measures are undertaken to effectuate the limitation are rationally connected to the fulfilment of the purpose; (iii) there are no alternative less invasive measures; and (iv) there is a proper relation between the importance of achieving the aim and the importance of limiting the right.

Ans. To Q 9. Circular dated March 23, 2017 mandating linking of mobile number with Aadhaar is held to be illegal and unconstitutional as it is not backed by any law.

(DIPAK MISRA)           (A.K. SIKRI)          (A.M. KHANWILKAR)

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