From the time of its inception, in the year 2009, a key question at the centre of the Unique Identification (UID) project has been whether the 12-digit Aadhaar number can be made mandatory, and whether people can be denied services for not having one.
The judiciary has ruled unambiguously on the question. On 23 September 2013, the Supreme Court, in response to a writ petition filed by the former judge KS Puttaswamy, challenging the government’s mission of universal Aadhaar enrolment, and of linking various benefit schemes to the programme, ruled that “no person should suffer for not getting the Aadhaar card,” despite the fact that some authorities had issued circulars making it mandatory. On 24 March 2014, in another case, it ruled that the biometrics collected for Aadhaar are to be confidential, and, additionally, that “no person shall be deprived of any service for want of Aadhaar number ... All the authorities are directed to modify their forms/circulars/likes so as to not compulsorily require the Aadhaar number...”
One might presume that two clear rulings from the highest court of the land would suffice to lay down the law across the country. And yet, when we—the writers of this piece—reached the office of an additional district magistrate (ADM) in Delhi on the morning of 20 February 2015 to submit our marriage application under the Special Marriages Act of 1954, we were ordered to provide our Aadhaar numbers. “Without Aadhaar, we cannot process your application,” the ADM’s assistant said.
We pointed out that such a requirement was not mentioned anywhere in the law. The assistant responded that he could not help us, since the software in which he had to key in the information to register our application would not allow him to proceed unless an Aadhaar number was keyed in first.
This was in clear violation of the Supreme Court notice of 2014, which directed all authorities to modify their “forms/circulars/likes so as to not compulsorily require the Aadhaar number.” Laws, it seemed, can lose all power as they percolate through many layers of government before they reach the average citizen.