Aadhaar Case: Right Over Your Body Not Absolute, Government Argues In Supreme Court

Lack of legislative competence, fundamental right violation only grounds to challenge.

People wait in queue at an Aadhaar camp in Agra, India. (Source: Twitter/@UIDAI)
People wait in queue at an Aadhaar camp in Agra, India. (Source: Twitter/@UIDAI)

The government on Tuesday argued before the Supreme Court that the right over one’s body is not absolute and called the arguments of bodily intrusion to take biometric data for Aadhaar as “bogus”.

Collecting biometrics does not mean “Uncle Sam is snooping on you”, Attorney General Mukul Rohatgi said, calling the arguments against Aadhaar “much ado about nothing”.

The Attorney General’s arguments in the apex court came during a hearing of a batch of petitions against making Aadhaar mandatory for filing income tax returns and obtaining a Permanent Account Number (PAN).

Bodily integrity is not absolute. There are so many certifications we give our biometrics for such as driving licence, buying property, etc... Photo identity and fingerprints have been there for different services. Only change here is that now fingerprint is taken on an electronic device.
Mukul Rohatgi, Attorney General 

Lack of legislative competence and violation of the fundamental rights accorded by the Constitution are the only available grounds to challenge a statutory provision, he said.

The Attorney General said the aim behind Aadhaar-PAN linkage is to ensure tax compliance and prevention of tax fraud. The idea is to make a robust scheme out of Aadhaar on its seeding with PAN, he said.

Rohatgi argued that while there are multiple PAN cards for a single individual, such duplication is almost non-existent with Aadhaar. “People had multiple PAN cards; there were shell companies,” he said. He cited a case under investigation where “PAN mischief by one person was Rs 5,000 crore”. Rohatgi submitted the details in a sealed cover to the apex court.

The “purpose is checking of black money, terror financing, money laundering, ensuring proper tax collection, bringing transactions to book.” This entire issue is not of dealing with a demon but with someone who will give you more orderly life, he said.

There cannot be a ban on power of Parliament to use Aadhaar for better purposes. Right to your body is not absolute. It can be taken away by due process of law.
Mukul Rohatgi, Attorney General

“One cannot commit suicide or take drugs saying I can do whatever I want to do. One cannot pluck weed from the road and smoke it and say, I can do whatever I want with my body.”

Justifying the government’s stand for the purpose of maintaining an orderly society, he said, “You might want to be forgotten, but the state will not forget you.”

In the last hearing on Thursday, Senior Advocate Shyam Divan had challenged the constitutionality of Section 139AA of the Income Tax Act, 1961 which was introduced by the Finance Act.

The government will continue its arguments on Wednesday.