Identity crisis: Aadhaar has clear benefits

It’s status quo for the Aadhaar scheme, as the Supreme Court continued to confine its applications to the public distribution scheme and the LPG and kerosene subsidies. Earlier, it had decided that a larger constitutional bench would decide on the question of whether privacy was a fundamental right. Aadhaar’s fate rests on that decision too.
The Centre, along with a host of institutions including the Sebi, RBI, LIC, Trai, and income tax department had appealed for the restriction to be lifted, claiming that the biometric ID system was the more precise way to get social entitlements across, and that it was a purely voluntary transaction. Since its inception, the unique ID plan has faced resistance from several quarters, chiefly privacy activists who claim that the poor should not have to forego their right to privacy in order to access welfare benefits that they need. Conceived by the UPA as the enabling architecture for all social provisions, the scheme had been forced to roll out as an executive order, and finally, the Supreme Court had declared that it could not be mandatory.
The upside of Aadhaar is clear — it is meant to avoid duplication and ghost beneficiaries, and therefore minimise leakage, and keep public spending honest and accurate. This is a clear problem — for instance, according to the 2011census, there are only 21million households in Andhra Pradesh, but there are 24.5 million ration cards. Instead of claiming that the poor would willingly waive their rights to privacy in exchange for social benefits, the government should address these concerns. Setbacks are inevitable in the absence of legislation underpinning the UIDAI. The courts will continue to be the arbiters of its mandate, extending it to this and disallowing that, unless the government makes a convincing case for it and enacts a solid law that guarantees privacy.