Dr. Asangba Tzüdir
The Supreme Court recently had to stare at a kind of legal vacuum as Maharashtra government, through a senior advocate demonstrated that the 40 year old judicially laid down foundation for privacy as a fundamental right was a misnomer. Two categorical judgments, one in 1954 (eight-judge bench M P Sharma Case) and the other in 1962 (six-judge bench Kharak Singh Case), had declared that privacy was not a fundamental right. Then, a three-judge bench verdict in 1975 (Govind vs Madhya Pradesh) was widely believed to have ruled the right to privacy was a fundamental right and this assumption was blindly followed by SC benches over the last 40 years.
The issue has once again heightened its tone with AADHAAR at the core of privacy issue. The status of AADHAAR Card is such that, to get it or not is no longer a question, even as the question of right to privacy becomes more contentious. Petitioners have challenged AADHAAR on the ground that it violates the right to privacy. They relied on smaller bench judgments in the last 40 years to caution the apex court against changing, what they called, the four-decade-long judicial recognition of the right to privacy as a fundamental right.
‘Governmentality’ and the ‘techne’ of control has reached a stage where a number of rights and liberties of the citizens are put at risk including individual’s right to privacy. A classic case is the Government’s passage of the AADHAAR Bill as a Money Bill without any regard for even the basic parliamentary procedures including subversion of an ongoing judicial process.
One may wonder why it was introduced as a Money Bill. A Money Bill is not introduced in both the houses of parliament. It is introduced only in Lok Sabha and from there it is transferred to the Upper House Rajya Sabha with a certificate from the Speaker that it is a Money Bill. Rajya Sabha cannot make amendments to the Bill but can only recommend the amendments to the Lok Sabha. Further, from Rajya Sabha, if the Bill is not routed back to Lok Sabha within 14 days, it may be considered as passed by both the Houses of Parliament. And the NDA led government, not having a majority in Rajya Sabha wanted to settle it in the Lok Sabha itself by converting AADHAAR Bill into a Money Bill.
When AADHAAR card project was started by the UPA govt. in 2013, Modi, who was then the CM of Gujarat, was very critical about the cost and the benefits. Today, as the PM, he has ‘reinforced’ ‘AADHAAR Card as a life ticket’ and the question of whether to get it or not does not arise. But the larger question is whether the government can guarantee safety and privacy concerns.
Citing a simple case, since one’s AADHAAR will be used by several agencies, it may be prone to data breach. A serious concern is that, it has become more threatening with the increase in cyber crimes around the globe and terrorism related activities. Your biometric AADHAAR number is not just another number.
The control ‘techne’ is such that, it has now broadened into the fold of PAN Card by making it mandatory to link it with AADHAAR Card setting August 31st as the deadline. It is no longer a question of choice. Failing which may lead to invalidation of PAN Card where it will no longer serve as an identity card, and will also be debarred from various transactions that require quoting PAN number.
Once AADHAAR is linked with PAN, it will automatically lead to linking with the bank accounts especially those banks that puts PAN Card as a requirement for KYC compliance. And with the linking of AADHAAR, PAN and Bank accounts, the government will keep a track of your financial transactions.
Well, within the concerns for the right to privacy, these tools of control will keep the activities of the citizens under surveillance. Like the panopticon in the prison to monitor the activities of the prisoners unseen; then there is the Close Circuit TV’s, AADHAAR Card etc.; the concept of control is ever evolving, and with the various developments in technology, it has become more difficult to cope with life being controlled by new tools and techniques.
In the pursuit of ‘systematising life’ through the application of control using various tools and being made mandatory, it has invented a new form of ‘life process/ing’ where more than anything else, rights are being negated.
Modi’s regime may be for better or for worse but one thing for sure is, besides the concerns to privacy and its associated issues including even threat to life, PEOPLE WILL LIVE A VERY UNSETTLED LIFE.
(Dr. Asangba Tzudir contributes a weekly guest editorial to The Morung Express. Comments can be mailed to firstname.lastname@example.org)