The government should end the confusion over the status of Aadhaar in the wake of the Supreme Court verdict holding use of Aadhaar valid for disbursal of government benefits but preventing private entities from carrying out Aadhaar-Based Biometric Authorisation (ABBA). It should issue clarifications on the current status and what it proposes to do, to permit Aadhaar’s use by private entities with customer consent. The most sure-footed response would be to put in place a robust data protection law, so as to address the main concern of even the dissenting judgment by Justice D Y Chandrachud.
Aadhaar remains mandatory for those who avail of government benefits. It remains linked to the Income-Tax Department’s Permanent Account Number (PAN), mandatory for all income-tax payees. All PAN holders’ bank accounts are linked to PAN and indirectly to Aadhaar, even if the Aadhaar link is removed from the bank’s own database. Only the bank accounts of a tiny segment of people who neither have PAN nor receive benefits from the government will not be linked to Aadhaar, but will rely on other documentary proof that meet know-your-customer (KYC) norms. It is the telecom industry that will have to bear the largest burden of additional cost in procuring alternate customer credentials, now that they have been mandated to destroy Aadhaar records used to validate their customers’ particulars. The government should legislate to enable private companies carry out ABBA with the consent of customers. This is the only way to preserve and protect the empowerment of the poor enabled by Aadhaar-based payments and money transfer mechanisms at work today. This would call for abandoning the fudge used to classify Aadhaar as a money Bill and seek bipartisan support to see the enabling law through Rajya Sabha.
A passport is mandatory only for foreign travel. But it remains a valid identity document in domestic transactions. The idea should be to empower individuals to use Aadhaar, if they so choose, to establish their identity, even when it is not mandatory.