Beghar Foundation v Justice K.S. Puttuswamy (Ret'd)
The Supreme Court is hearing a set of review petitions challenging the Court’s 2018 Aadhaar judgment. The judgment upheld the Aadhaar (Targeted Delivery of Financial and Other Subsidies, Benefits and Services) Act, 2016 as constitutional.
Petitioner: Beghar Foundation; Jairam Ramesh; M.G. Devasahayam; Mathew Thomas; Imtiyaz Ali Palsaniya; Shantha Sinha; S.G. Vombatkere
Lawyers: Shyam Divan; Vipin Nair (AoR); Pallavi Pratap (AoR); M.T. George (AoR); Gautam Talukdar (AoR); Deepayan Mandal (AoR); Anando Mukherjee (AoR); K.J. John (AoR)
Respondent: Union of India; Justice KS Puttaswamy (Ret'd)
Lawyers: Zoheb Hossain (AoR)
Whether the judgment in Justice K. S. Puttaswamy v Union of India (2018) fails to consider relevant facts submitted and grounds argued by the petitioners?
Whether the judgment in Justice K. S. Puttaswamy v Union of India (2018) commits an error apparent on the face of the record?
Aadhaar is a 12-digit identification number issued by the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI). The stated-aim of Aadhaar is to ensure the efficient and transparent delivery of subsidies, benefits and services.
Many citizens resisted the Union’s first attempt to introduce the Aadhaar scheme through the National Identification Authority of India Bill, 2010 (‘NIA Bill’). By 2013, 8 petitions had been filed in the Supreme Court contending that the scheme violated the right to privacy and was conducive to mass surveillance. Petitioners included retired Justice K.S. Puttaswamy and notable right to information activist, Aruna Roy. Even the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Finance submitted concerns pertaining to privacy and security.
Given the constitutional questions involved, the Supreme Court referred the PILs to a five-judge Constitution Bench. Further, it specified that Aadhaar would remain purely voluntary until such time it delivered its final judgment.
Nevertheless, in 2016, the Union made Aadhaar mandatory for availing of certain services and benefits. Instead of enacting the NIA Bill, which was under challenge before the Court, Parliament passed a near identical piece of legislation – the Aadhaar (Targeted Delivery of Financial and Other Subsidies, Benefits and Services) Act, 2016 (‘Aadhaar Act’). Adding to the controversy, the Lok Sabha passed the Aadhaar Act without the scrutiny of the Rajya Sabha, as it had introduced it as a Money Bill.
Even though the earlier PILs were still pending, the President assented to the Aadhaar Act on 12 July 2016. This made Aadhaar mandatory for a range of services and benefits, including availing of welfare benefits, obtaining a PAN card and opening a bank account.
Around two years later, the Supreme Court finally delivered its verdict – it upheld the Aadhaar Act as constitutional by a 4:1 majority. Setting aside privacy concerns, the Court observed that the State can restrict the right to privacy if such restriction is proportional to a legitimate state aim. Reasoning that the efficient and transparent distribution of benefits and services to disadvantaged citizens is a legitimate aim, the Court concluded that the Act did not violate the fundamental right to privacy. Further, it observed that there are enough safeguards in place to prevent Aadhaar from facilitating mass state surveillance.
Justice Arjan Kumar Sikri authored the majority opinion on behalf of Chief Justice Dipak Misra, Justice Ajay Manikrao Khanwilkar and himself. Justice Ashok Bhushan authored a concurring opinion, while Justice D.Y. Chandrachud dissented.
Even though it upheld the Act as a whole, the majority did strike down individuals provisions as unconstitutional. These included provisions for mandatory bank-linking and metadata collection. For a full list of provisions struck/read down, read our judgment table.
Following the verdict, 7 parties filed review petitions, praying for the Court to reverse its decision and strike down the Aadhaar Act. Availing of the Court’s jurisdiction under Article 137 of the Constitution, the review petitioners argued that the 2018 judgment suffers from ‘errors apparent on the face of the record’. Primarily, they assert that the Court failed to consider vital material evidence and applied contradictory reasoning.
A Bench comprising Chief Justice Bobde and Justices A.M. Khanwilkar, D.Y. Chandrachud, Ashok Bhushan and L. Nageswara Rao was scheduled to hear the review in chambers on 9 June 2020. However, on 8 June, the Court adjourned the closed-door hearing. A new five-judge bench consisting of Justices A.M. Khanwilkar, D.Y. Chandrachud, Ashok Bhushan, S Abdul Nazeer and B.R. Gavai heard the matter in chambers on 11 January 2021.
On 20 January 2021, the five-judge bench in a 4:1 judgment dismissed the review petition. J. Chandrachud dissented.