During the ongoing Supreme Court hearings challenging the Aadhaar programme, the central government has shifted positions on the issue of making Aadhaar mandatory for mobile connections. In late April, HuffPost India published a story about the Lokniti Foundation, a “secretive organisation” that had filed a petition seeking “100% verification of the mobile phone subscribers.” The story noted that Lokniti had filed multiple public interest litigations in the Supreme Court to elicit governmental reforms. New evidence, obtained through a Right to Information request, reveals that ten of Lokniti’s 17 founding members are civil servants. The discovery raises important questions about the organisation’s relationship with the government, and the circumstances surrounding its petition.
The Lokniti Foundation filed the PIL in 2016, citing grievances with telecom companies’ customer-verification processes and claiming that making Aadhaar mandatory for mobile SIMs would be a boon for national security. In February 2017, the Supreme Court issued an order disposing of the petition without issuing any explicit directions, but “complimenting the petitioner” for filing it. The following month, the government cited this order and issued a circular that directed cellular providers to “re-verify all existing mobile subscribers … through Aadhaar based E-KYC process.” But in April this year, the Supreme Court bench hearing the Aadhaar cases told the counsels representing the central government, “In fact there was no direction from the Supreme Court, but you took it and used it as a tool to make Aadhaar mandatory for mobile users.” In a subsequent hearing, the attorney general, KK Venugopal, argued that the circular was nonetheless based on the February 2017 order, in which the court had expressed its “hope and expectation” that the verification would be completed within a year.
The RTI response provides the names and occupations of the 17 individuals who requested to form the Lokniti Foundation when it was registered by Delhi’s registrar of societies in 2008. The HuffPost report quotes Sharad Goel—the secretary of the Lokniti Foundation—who said the organisation was “the brainchild of Shatrujeet Singh Kapoor,” a senior IPS officer serving in Haryana. It further noted concerns expressed by retired members of the Indian Administrative Service, who questioned the propriety of civil servants approaching the Supreme Court through PILs while they are still working in the government.