2017 saw several controversies and a lot of confusion on linking of the 12-digit Aadhaar number with various government services. Clarity was scarce as the government kept linking schemes to Aadhaar without making it mandatory as the Supreme Court admitted and heard petitions against the government.
In 2018, the Supreme Court will decide several petitions before it on making Aadhaar mandatory for government services and the overarching matter of citizens’ right to privacy. The court has refused to put a freeze on Aadhaar linkages. As the status quo continues, the government has increased the number of services linked to Aadhaar. The Supreme Court has extended the deadline for Aadhaar linkage to services such as Permanent Account Number, bank account and mobile phone number to March 31, 2018.
If the court gives a go-ahead to the mandatory linkages of Aadhaar, it will become the most important identity proof of an Indian, the one number that opens all the government doors. While it will create efficiencies and make the government faster, it can also make a large number of people vulnerable to cyber crime. The government cannot have any foolproof system to secure such a large amount of data from hackers who devise more innovative ways by the day. However, Aadhaar will make the dream of digital India come true as citizens can easily connect with the government online. A digital identity for every Indian holds a revolutionary potential for governance. It can bring transparency and literally root out corruption at several levels. A verdict on the right privacy that goes in favour of the government may embolden it to use the Aadhaar details for several purposes including criminal probes.
If the court doesn’t permit mandatory linking of Aadhaar with government services, that won’t spell the end of Digital India dream. Most probably, the government will find innovative ways to persuade people to get an Aadhaar identity and link it to government schemes voluntarily. Most of the Indian have already registered for Aadhaar. The government can even incentivise the Aadhaar linkages.
However, the court might allow mandatory Aadhaar linkages for a few services. In June, the court had upheld Section 139AA of the Income Tax Act, saying that the new provision that made Aadhaar mandatory for income tax assessees was not in violation of the fundamental right to equality or to practice one’s profession or trade.
This trend will only increase as one digital identity makes verification and delivery faster and easier. More private companies are likely to use Aadhaar in some way in 2018.