Aadhaar details will have to be furnished to benefit from any welfare schemes till the end of the year, the government said in court today, extending the original deadline of September 30. Whether the state can compulsorily link Aadhar – a 12-digit unique number assigned to every Indian – to various programs and all financial transactions has been challenged in the Supreme Court with the petitioners alleging that it violates the right to privacy.
Separately, judges will rule in early November on whether the government’s linking of Aadhaar to tax returns, direct cash transfers to beneficiaries of welfare schemes, and bank loans violates that fundamental right. The government has said that privacy as in intrinsic right comes with reasonable limits – like those on freedom of speech, for example – and that Aadhaar is a secure form of digital identification for citizens which can be used for government services while streamlining welfare benefit payments and reducing wastage.
The Aadhaar data base has already recorded the biometrics of more than a billion Indians. The government has argued that Aadhaar information is carefully protected. Campaigners against it say it allows the states unqualified powers of surveillance.
The program to collect the iris scans and fingerprints of all Indians was launched in 2009 by the former Congress-led government. Critics point out that it was launched as a voluntary programme that is now being imposed on everything from travel to securing bank loans.