(GIST OF YOJANA) Aadhaar: The Digital Highway To New India [DECEMBER-2018]


(GIST OF YOJANA) Aadhaar: The Digital Highway To New India

[DECEMBER-2018]


Aadhaar: The Digital Highway To New India

Since independence, rarely any single initiative of the Government of India has ever been as intensely debated as Aadhaar during the last nine years of its existence. The debate which engulfed practically every section of society- governments, NGOs, civil society, legal fraternity, political parties, academics, professionals, activists, techies, advocates, media, etc. was so widespread and passionate that no section of our society remained untouched. It was like the great mythological churning of the sea that has brought a number of gems like unique identity, privacy, data protection, digital security, etc. on the national agenda.

Critics alleged that Aadhaar was unconstitutional for it purportedly, as per their claim, infringed on individual liberty, privacy, personal autonomy, freedom of choice, etc. They perceived government’s enhanced ability to directly connect, reach, and serve people in a cost effective, efficient and transparent manner, as an increase in the state’s power and, hence, criticized Aadhaar as an instrument of state surveillance. It is useful to know how other developed democracies used unique identification numbers to cleanse their system. USA introduced Social Security Number through an enactment in 1935 for a limited purpose of providing social security benefits during the Great Depression. However, in 1942, President Franklin Roosevelt expanded the scope through a historic executive order no. 9397 which mandated all Federal agencies to exclusively use SSN in their programs. In 1962, SSN was adopted as the official Tax Identification Number (TIN) for income tax purposes. In 1976, the Social Security Act was further amended to say that any State may utilize, in the administration of any tax, general public assistance, driver’s license or motor vehicle registration law, the social security account numbers for the purpose of establishing the identification of individuals and may require any individual to furnish SSN. The mandatory use of SSN by the State did not go unchallenged in US courts which eventually held mandatory use of SSN to be constitutional. In Doyle vs. Wilson, it was held that “mandatory disclosure of one’s social security numbers does not so threaten the sanctity of individual privacy as to require constitutional protection.” In other cases, courts held that “requiring an SSN on a driver’s license application is not unconstitutional, nor is a requirement that welfare recipients furnish their SSNs” and “preventing fraud in federal welfare programs is an important goal, and the SSN requirement is a reasonable means of promoting that goal”. In United Kingdom too, almost every important service requires a National Insurance those who want to work, open bank accounts, pay taxes want to receive child benefits, and even those who want to vote.

In India, too, Aadhaar had to undergo several legal challenges. After six years of prolonged litigation and 38 days of marathon hearing in Aadhaar case by the 5 judges constitutional Bench of the Supreme Court of India where 36 petitions along with the lead writ petition no. 494 of 2012 of Justice K.S. Puttaswamy & others vs. Union of India & Others challenging various aspects and issues of Aadhaar and Aadhaar Act were argued and debated; and the SC delivered its historic and landmark judgment which upheld Aadhaar as constitutional albeit with some stronger safeguards that would go a long way in accelerating India’s digital journey and strengthening India’s digital narrative to create greater digital narrative to create greater digital trust, parity and confidence among people.

In fact, this judgement is a big win for the people of India, particularly for the marginalized and underprivileged section of the society who could now use Aadhaar to access any service anytime-anywhere. The Supreme Court decision in Aadhaar case would certainly take us together miles ahead on India’s digital voyage with augmented safety that is supported by stronger data protection measures to enhance digital trust of the people with hassle-free empowerment with the use of Aadhaar.

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Upholding the constitutional validity of Aadhaar- the world’s largest unique biometric identity project of India that caters to one-sixth of the population on this planet, the Supreme Court has held that the architecture of Aadhaar neither creates a surveillance state nor infringes the fundamental right to privacy. The Court said that Aadhaar identification is unparalleled and ensure empowerment and dignity of marginalized sections of the society. The Court also un held that the Aadhaar Act meets the concept of the limited government, good governance and constitutional trust and its passing as a Money Bill is justified and legitimate.

Aadhaar as empowerment enabler will be, as always, a game changer for the poor and for India. Aadhaar ensures that the benefits reach directly to the deserving beneficiaries in a hassle-free manner. Aadhaar is helping eliminate middlemen, ghosts. Fakes, and duplicates in schemes likes PDS, MGNREGS, PAHAL, Scholarships, etc. which has already led to saving of over Rs. 90,000 crore during the last three years. According to an estimate of the World Bank, if Aadhaar is used across all welfare schemes, it will help save Government about US $11 billion every year!
Aadhaar is the first and biggest public owned world’s largest biometric technology platforms which being constitutionally platform which being constitutionally valid, would now not only empower 122 crore people with biometric based unique identity but would also provide a nationwide infrastructure to establish voluntarily their identity online anywhere, anytime and enable them to receive their entitlements and exercise their rights.

Aadhaar makes it possible for the government to design special welfare programs and target them to deserving sections of the society. For example, use of Aadhaar in Ayushman Bharat ensures that benefits would not be siphoned away by non-deserving beneficiaries and thereby will help keep the insurance premium and expenses within the affordable limits. Also, Aadhaar has helped flood victims of Tamil Nadu who were stranded in relief camps to withdraw money from their bank accounts without any documents or withdrawal slips being filled just by their Aadhaar and fingerprint through AePS enabled micro-ATMs. Further, the government is using Aadhaar to create a tax compliant society by weeding out fake and duplicate PAN cards, shell companies, and curb tax evasion, money laundering, fraudulent, corrupt and dubious activities. No one can deny the fact that Aadhaar has proven to be a powerful, safe and secure digital platform to establish unflinching identity of a person created on three basic doctrines of minimal information, optimal ignorance and federated database and is free from the traits of caste, colour, creed, race, profiling, etc.

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