We are almost at the end of August, and the wait for the Supreme Court Constitution Bench's judgment in the final Aadhaar hearings continues. All we know for now is that the judgment will be out, and soon...
Most recently the Delhi High Court issued notice to the UIDAI and the Union government on a petition filed by academic Shamnad Basheer, seeking allowing people to opt out and request deletion of existing Aadhaar data, and asking for payment of exemplary damages for all Aadhaar data breaches.
The Income Tax department finally allowed online filing of tax returns without quoting the Aadhaar number, as stipulated by the Supreme Court last year in Binoy Viswam for those without Aadhaar. Multiple petitions were filed all over the country, with courts granting relief for petitioners alone, until finally on 24th July 2018, a two judge bench of the Delhi High Court in Shreya Sen v. Union of India directed the Central Board of Direct Taxes (CBDT) to rework their software so that people can file their tax returns online without having to furnish their UID number or any proof of having enrolled.They said it: "This court is of the opinion that at least till 31.3.2019, the CBDT shall issue an appropriate direction, and also create a platform by amending the digital form of (sic or) substituting them properly to enable ‘opt-out’ from the mandatory requirement of having to furnish Aadhaar registration or Aadhaar linkage, for the duration, the exemption subsists, that is, till 31.3.2019."
While the CBDT seemed in no hurry to follow the order of the court, one of us tried to file returns online, and to our pleasant surprise, Aadhaar was not required!
We strongly recommend that those still waiting to file their tax returns make their accountants and/or tax consultants aware of the latest court order and aim to file their returns without quoting Aadhaar.
I. Updates from Parliament
From misinterpreting the Supreme Court's judgments and misleading citizens to link Aadhaar with mobile phones to the open challenge issued by the TRAI Chairman Ram Sewak Sharma, many issues around Aadhaar were raised and discussed in Parliament in the recently concluded Monsoon Session. Some highlights:
One MP pointed out that farmers, already reeling under several losses, were finding it difficult to claim timely payment under the Pradhan Mantri Fasal Bima Yojana because of mandatory linking of Aadhaar to claim compensation. He stated that amidst the Supreme Court challenge and several Central Govt notifications, there was no clarity among citizens on whether Aadhaar is mandatory or not.
Another MP demanded an explanation from the Central Govt for misinterpreting the Supreme Court's judgments and making Aadhaar linking with mobile phones mandatory and wondered about the Govt's stand on the Fundamental Right to Privacy.
The issue of the mysterious inclusion of the UIDAI helpline number in millions of Android phones was also raised and it was claimed that 'big brother' is watching.
In response to a Question raised on the TRAI Chairman Ram Sewak Sharma revealing his Aadhaar number on Twitter, the Government did not clarify whether any action would be taken against him, but simply stated that he is a public figure and his personal details are already out in public domain.
In response to several Questions on making Aadhaar mandatory for obtaining rations through PDS and the same leading to hunger deaths, the Government first claimed that no starvation or hunger death has been reported in the country in last four years. Then it clarified that instructions have been given to States/UTs not to delete any person / household from list of eligible beneficiaries or deny subsidized foodgrains or cash transfers for not possessing Aadhaar or for failure of biometric authentication. It also stated that beneficiaries under NFSA, who did not have an Aadhaar needed to make an application for one by 30th September, 2018.
In response to another Question on complaints received by UIDAI against registrars and enrollment agencies, a list of such Registrars and Enrollment Agencies whose services were suspended and terminated was provided which included the Govt-promoted CSC e-Governance. It also stated that everyday, on average, UIDAI contact centres for grievance redressal receive 2 lakh calls most of which are for seeking information.
There was a news report of online leakage of Aadhaar and bank details of 1.34 lakh employees of Andhra Pradesh State Housing Corporation. In response to a Question on this, the Govt evaded answering the actual question and simply stated that there has been no leakage of Aadhaar data from UIDAI database.
In response to another Question, the Govt stated that in 2015-16, National Population Register data was shared with State Governments to update it and to seed it with Aadhaar numbers. But it also stated that the Aadhaar seeded Population Register data has not been shared with State Governments.
In an RTI filed earlier this year, UIDAI had refused to disclose information on Aadhaar promotion and branding. When a Question on the same was raised in Parliament, it was denied that UIDAI hires any agencies to undertake image makeover of Aadhaar.
II. Protests against ICDS-Aadhaar linking in Gujarat
A group of concerned citizens from Gujarat had begun investigating the Aadhaar scheme in 2017. On 17th April 2018, the Gujarat State ICDS Department released a circular mandating production of Aadhaar for disbursement of salary. The department wanted Anganwadi workers to open new accounts that were Aadhaar linked into which they could transfer salaries through DBT, and demanded that Anganwadi workers submit photocopies of Aadhaar cards to the ICDS department. Four Anganwadi workers reached out to the group of concerned citizens asking for help in resisting the order making Aadhaar mandatory because they believed Aadhaar was a breach of their privacy.
Integrated Child Development Service (ICDS) is a government programme in India which provides food, preschool education and primary education to children under 6 years of age and their mothers. The ICDS department governs and manages various sub-schemes including Anganwadi services. The salaries of Anganwadi workers had been stopped for the past 3 months due to non-linking of Aadhaar. After forcefully imposing this scheme, some of workers were given the choice of either submitting their Aadhaar or quitting the job. Such coercion was not limited to salaries alone - they were also mentally tortured to submit their Aadhaar card and collect Aadhaar cards of their students by any means necessary.
Activists from the area report that they had met the Department’s Director at the Gandhinagar office several times and were initially given assurances that salaries would not be stopped. In their latest meeting, however, officials stated that salaries would not be disbursed until and unless Aadhaar cards were linked. The Anganwadi workers have tried to submit other government IDs such as Voter ID, Ration card, etc. but have been refused their salaries until submission of their Aadhaar cards.
A petition challenging this mandatory linking has been filed by one of the Anganwadi workers in the Gujarat High Court.
The team of concerned citizens has been reaching out to those affected when Aadhaar is made mandatory. Adil Patel in Gujarat can be reached on 09638177097.
III. Aadhaar Fraud in PDS
On 26.08.2018, the Times Of India reported:
Vol. II of this update on how to delink your bank account and aadhaar number, data protection, and more will follow soon.