S G Vombatkere v Union of India
The Supreme Court will decide the constitutional validity of the 2019 Aadhaar Ordinance and Regulations.
Petitioner: S. G. Vombatkere; Bezwada Wilson
Lawyers: Vipin Nair; Shyam Divan
Respondent: Union of India
Does the Aadhaar and Other Laws (Amendment) Ordinance, 2019 violate Articles 14,19 and 21 of the Constitution?
Do the Aadhaar (Pricing of Aadhaar Authentication Services) Regulations, 2019 violate the fundamental rights of privacy and property?
On 2 March, 2019 the Union government promulgated the Aadhaar and Other Laws (Amendment) Ordinance, 2019. This permitted private agencies to independently verify individuals’ Aadhaar numbers without supervision by the regulatory authority (UIDAI). On 7 March, 2019 UIDAI notified the Aadhaar (Pricing of Aadhaar Authentication Services) Regulations, 2019. The Regulations impose fees on private agencies making Aadhaar authentication transactions.
Retired Army officer S. G. Vombatkere and human rights activist Bezwada Wilson have challenged the constitutional validity of the Ordinance and the Regulations. They contend that the Ordinance and Regulations violate the fundamental right to privacy and dignity by
- Enabling State and private actor surveillance; and
- Commercially exploiting the personal information of citizens.
The petitioners submit that the Ordinance violates the Supreme Court’s 2018 decision on the constitutionality of the Aadhar Act. The Court had barred private agencies from using Aadhaar verification and restricted its mandatory use to subsidies and income tax filings.
The petitioners argue that:
- The fundamental right to privacy protects against surveillance. The Ordinance enables private agencies and the State to monitor, document and surveil citizens in real time through the authentication and offline verification processes.
- Personal information, including biometric information, is an individual’s private property. Its commercial exploitation is manifestly arbitrary and violates dignity under Articles 19 and 21 of the Constitution. Additionally, the right to privacy guarantees citizens control over the commercial use of their data.
- Offline verification by private entities poses grave threats to national security, since information provided during Aadhaar enrolment is not verified by government authorities.
On 5 July 2019, the Supreme Court issued notice to the Union Government and UIDAI.
The Ordinance was introduced as the Aadhaar and Other Laws (Amendment) Bill, 2019 in Parliament on 24 June 2019. The Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha both passed it on 4 July and 8 July respectively.
On 22 November 2019, the Court issued notice and tagged a petition challenging the Amendment Act, also filed by Vombatkere and Wilson, to the original petition challenging the ordinance.