India’s Supreme Court has ruled that the country’s national biometric ID program cannot be made mandatory for access to social subsidies.
The ruling is a setback for the government, but limited in scope given the breadth of Aadhaar applications in the country. The biometric ID program has expanded in a legal fog since the Supreme Court refused to decide on whether the government could make its use mandatory for access to government services back in 2015; and the new ruling does little to settle that question, with the court now asserting only that Aadhaar cards can’t be required for access to welfare subsidies, and explicitly deferring broader questions on its legality and alleged privacy infringements for a later sitting of the full court. (The latest decision was made by three judges of the full seven that comprise the bench.)
The ruling arrives as evidence continues to mount for the advantages offered by the Aadhaar program. As The Statesman reports this week, the Unique Identification Authority of India, which administrates Aadhaar, says that use of the program for authentication of students enrolled in meal plans has significantly reduced the number of fraudulent student enrollments, which drain resources from the school system; in that state of Maharashtra, for example, somewhere between 14 and 15 percent of student enrollments were found to be fraudulent.
Meanwhile, Aadhaar has attracted attention from other states presumably seeking to establish similar programs of their own, and has won praise from the World Bank for, among other things, helping to integrate disadvantaged groups into mainstream society.
March 27, 2017 – by Alex Perala