Nandan Nilekani
Nandan Nilekani

The Supreme Court has just ordered the government not to share Aadhaar details with any agencies without the permission of the Aadhaar user. A three member bench headed by Justice BS Chauhan said: “If there are any instructions that Aadhaar is mandatory, it should be withdrawn immediately.”

As technocrat Nandan Nilekani braces to contest elections on the Congress ticket, this comes as another big blow to Aadhaar, the project which was led by him. The Court was hearing petitions against Aadhaar that challenged the constitutional validity of the project.

It also said that sharing Aadhaar data amounted to violation of privacy. The part where the court says Aadhaar is not mandatory is the damaging part for the multi-crore project. The other part, where it ordered not to share biometric data with other government agencies goes in favor of the UIDAI which earlier declined to share fingerprint data with the CBI.

The problem with Aadhaar?

While the National Identification Authority of India bill, which gives legal standing to the project, is still pending, the government has approved direct cash transfers to beneficiaries of government schemes through the Aadhaar platform.  The Aadhaar project, first mooted by the Planning Commission was set in motion through an executive order without any legislation backing it.

Various agencies like the police and LPG distributors have also started seeding their databases with Aadhaar numbers. Some of the services and departments also started making Aadhaar mandatory to avail government benefits. This was revoked by a court order in September. More than 56 cr Aadhaar numbers have been issued so far. Former Infosys executive who was pulled into the government to execute the project recently quit his job at the Unique Identification Authority of India to contest elections on a Congress ticket from Bangalore.

The government has spent thousands of crores of rupees on the project so far. In the last budget, it set aside over Rs 3000 cr for the project. In total, it is expected to cost the government over Rs 35,000 cr over a 10 year period to setup Aadhaar and run benefit transfers and other schemes on top of it. At this rate, benefit transfer and other benefits of Aadhaar might just remain a pipe dream. Another albatross around the government’s neck?

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