New Delhi: If you just have to identify the citizens, what is the need to centralise and aggregate their personal data under the Aadhaar scheme, the Supreme Court asked the Centre today.
The Centre, in turn, urged a five judge constitution bench headed by Chief Justice Dipak Misra to allow Ajay Bhushan Pandey, CEO of the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI), to make a powerpoint presentation to the court to allay the apprehensions about the Aadhaar scheme.
Attorney General K K Venugopal, who started the arguments for the Centre, said the CEO would answer queries of the bench on all issues like surveillance, data security and exclusion and sought the nod for it tomorrow.
The bench, which also comprised Justices A K Sikri, A M Khanwilkar, D Y Chandrachud and Ashok Bhushan, asked Venugopal to submit the details of the presentation in "word format" and said it would take a decision on it tomorrow.
"If your only goal is identification, then there are less invasive means to ensure identification (of citizens). Where is the necessity to aggregate and centralise the data," the bench asked the Centre.
The bench then gave the example of Singapore and said every person there has to get a chip-based ID card and his or her personal information remains with the person and not with the government authorities.
The Attorney General said "all this will be explained by the CEO of the UIDAI in his presentation tomorrow and moreover, aggregation of data is not possible in Aadhaar".
At the outset, Venugopal, whose turn to argue came on the 20th day of the marathon hearing, said the CEO's presentation would clear doubts including the technical ones about the Aadhaar scheme.
The bench, however, said it will take a decision and asked him to initiate his submissions to counter the arguments, including that Aadhaar violated fundamental right to privacy.
The petitioners have raised the issue of "privacy, anonymity, dignity, surveillance, aggregation, presumptive criminality, unconstitutional conditions, absence of a law, security", the bench said.
Venugopal said that Article 21 (right to life) has two aspects, one deals with rights like Right to Food and Right to Education and the other pertains to Freedom of Conscience and Right to Privacy.
The question is which aspect will prevail, he said, adding that the fundamental rights like the Right to Life should prevail over Right to Conscience and Privacy.
Referring to the judgements, he said it has been held that right to life does not mean "mere animal" existence, but rather, it is a right to live with dignity.
Before Aadhaar, there was a massive pilferage through bogus ration cards and ghost beneficiaries and the right to dignity of the downtrodden was more important than right to privacy being espoused by a few NGOs and individuals, he said.
The apex court said that even the downtrodden, who needed food and shelter, have the right to privacy and the State cannot violate it.
Through Aadhaar, food, shelter and employment are being given to those living in the fringes and the government has taken care that the right to privacy is affected "in the most minimal way", Venugopal said.
An enormous effort has been put in to ensure safety and security of data and there have been 60 committees since 2006 whichuhave looked into this aspect, he said.
"Aadhaar is not a fly-by-night scheme but a serious effort to insulate deserving beneficiaries from the effects of corruption," he said, adding that many countries have adopted a unique identification system and even the World Bank has referred to Aadhaar in its report.
The core effort of the Aadhaar Act is to protect the huge amounts of money spent to bridge the gap between rich and poor, he said, adding when Britishers left India, poverty was at 66 per cent and illiteracy 87 per cent and now both are down to 27 per cent.
Referring to the siphoning of public money, Venugopal said corruption was massive and over Rs 1000 crore was being diverted. Even China is less corrupt, he said, quoting the report of Privacy International and said that something was to be dome.
Before the 2016 Act, it was ordered that Aadhaar would be voluntary and hence, there cannot be a question that fundamental rights were violated by taking biometric details under the scheme.
The court said it was not "so simple" and when people agreed to obtain Aadhaar, they did not accept to surrender their data for government use and moreover, the safeguards provided in the Act did not exist in 2010-2016.
Venugopal said no affected person has come to the court but it was only the NGOs who have come complaining. The advancing of arguments remained inconclusive and would continue tomorrow.
The court has extended the March 31 deadline for linking of Aadhaar to avail various services and welfare schemes run by the government until it delivers its verdict on the validity of the 12-digit biometric number and its enabling law.