The Supreme Court on Tuesday said the poor people’s right to privacy was sacrosanct and could not be bartered for getting benefits under social welfare schemes targeted at vulnerable and weaker sections of society.
“You are illiterate. You don’t know what you are parting with. Somebody is poor and starving. He does not have right to privacy?” asked a bench headed by Justice J.Chelameswar as senior counsel K.K.Venugopal said that a citizen’s right to larger benefits under socially beneficial schemes could not be frustrated by authorities insisting on Aadhaar card as identity proof.
The bench which also comprised Justice S.A.Bobde and Justice C. Nagappan said that it would pass order on Wednesday on a batch of application seeking the relaxation of its August 11 order by which court had said that Aadhaar card could only be used for the distribution of food grains under PDS, cooking fuel like kerosene and for distribution of cooking gas.
The court’s August interim order came on a batch of petitions including by Karnataka High Court’s former judge Justice K.S.Puttaswamy, who contended that biometric data and Iris scan that was being collected for the issuance of Aadhaar card violated the fundamental right to privacy of the citizens as personal data was not protected and was vulnerable to misuse.
Appearing for the applicant, the Centre for Civil Society, which sought modification of the order, Venugopal said: “I want to go for larger benefits. I don’t want my privacy. Take my all details and put on public domain” adding that there could not be a situation where poor people say ‘Please give my money and court says you retain your privacy’.”
As Venugopal argued that the routing of the benefits under the social welfare schemes through Aadhaar card could not be blocked by invoking the bogey of privacy, Justice Bobde said an illiterate and poor person may not know what he was parting with.
Appearing for the central government, Attorney General Mukul Rohatgi said that social welfare scheme were not for the rich and affluent but for millions of poor as he cited the instance of where Rs.14,000 crore were saved just by weeding out fake and ghost cooking gas connection holders.
Assailing the petitioner’s contention that data being collected for the issuance of Aadhaar card compromised citizens’ privacy, Rohatgi said that 200 or 500 people who are raising the issue of privacy could not come in the way of 50 crore people and their benefits.
He said that people when they go to Dubai or London don’t object to giving this data but within the country, they complain of breach of privacy.
Countering Rohatgi, senior counsel Anil Divan told the court that government had not complied with court’s August 11 order as it did not give any “wide publicity” telling the people that possessing Aadhaar was not necessary for availing benefits under the government schemes except for those specified in the order sought to be relaxed.
Opposing any modification of the order, he said that since August 11 till date there was no change in circumstances warranting any relaxation of the order.
The court has been moved by the Gujarat government, RBI, SEBI, UIDAI, LIC, TRAI, Pension Fund Development and Regulatory Authority and others seeking modification of the August 11 order to facilitate their “paperless” operations.