The central government on Thursday claimed in the Supreme Court that Aadhaar would prevent bank frauds blamed for the rising non-performing assets in the public sector banking system and also would help the government shut down telecom connectivity to terrorists, prompting the top court to question these claims.
“Aadhaar will prevent bank frauds,” Attorney General KK Venugopal told a five-judge bench, which is testing the constitutional validity of a host of petitions that have challenged the Aadhaar Act, 2016. “It would prevent creation of multiple benami accounts,” he explained.
He then went on to claim that terrorists often hold multiple SIMs.
“Internet connectivity could be cut off to terrorists’ cell phones,” he suggested. The bench comprising CJI Dipak Misra and Justices AK Sikri, AM Khanwilkar, DY Chandrachud and Ashok Bhushan, however, was openly sceptical of his claims. “Bank frauds don’t happen because of multiple identities,” Justice Sikri commented. “Banks do due diligence every time they give out loans. Frauds can’t happen unless bank employees are hand in glove,” Justice Sikri said. In this context he referred to the recent Nirav Modi instance.
Justice Chandrachud added: “Aadhar is not going to prevent people from carrying out layers of complex transactions. Layers of commercial entities will still be owned by the same person,” he said.
“These things are not illegal per se. You can structure your transactions to show multiple transactions and take loans on them. Aadhaar is not a catch-all for all frauds.”
The bench also scoffed at his claims that it would help the government deal with terrorists. “Terrorists don’t apply for Aadhaar. They don’t apply for SIMs. They acquire them,” Justice Chandrachud observed.The senior-most law officer of the court also claimed that the Aadhaar data pre-dating the 2016 law was valid under the law as it was “voluntarily” ceded.
“People happily and gladly embraced Aadhaar. There is not a single representation with the government against Aadhaar. People who have been using it for years and years cannot now say that they never consented to it,” he argued. “Where is the question of lack of consent?”
He urged the court to refrain from ruling that they had been collected unconstitutionally and hence must be destroyed. “That would be an exercise in futility. We will have to re-enrol these people.”
During his submissions the AG also referred to the US social security system to impress upon the court to refrain from unravelling Aadhaar. The AG claimed that the biometrics involved in Aadhaar were freely available in the public domain.
“The biometrics are bare minimum. Everything is available about a person in Wikipedia these days,” he argued.
At one point, he insisted that a small proportion of the population opposed to Aadhaar cannot insist that their right to privacy was more important than the right to food and life of the teeming poor — estimated at over 400 million people.