Yesterday, the Supreme Court delivered its first verdict in a series of legal challenges that have been made against the Aadhaar project. In the present matter, the court was examining whether a provision of the Finance Act, 2017 that made Aadhaar mandatory for filing of income tax returns and applying for Permanent Account Number (PAN) cards was constitutionally valid. The court has upheld the validity of this provision, subject to a few qualifications. Below, we discuss the background of the Aadhaar project, why the courts have stepped in to examine its legality, and some aspects of the recent judgement.
What is Aadhaar about, and how is it being used?
Earlier, various identity proofs were required for access to governments benefits, subsidies and services, such as a ration card, driving license or voter id. However, as these proofs could be easily duplicated or forged, there was leakage of benefits and subsidies to ineligible beneficiaries. The Aadhaar project was initiated in 2009 to address these problems. It was envisaged as a biometric-based unique identity number that could help identify eligible persons. It was thought to be a more reliable identity proof, because it sought to authenticate a person’s identity based on their unique biometrics, like fingerprints and iris scans.1
In 2016, Parliament enacted the Aadhaar (Targeted Delivery of Financial and Other Subsidies, Benefits and Services) Act, 2016 to provide legislative backing to the project. This Act allowed Aadhaar to be used for authentication purposes by the central and state government, as well as by private bodies and persons.
Under its provisions, government has been issuing various notifications making Aadhaar mandatory for government projects, such as LPG subsidies and Mid-Day Meal scheme. In addition, in 2017, Parliament passed the Finance Act to amend the Income Tax Act, 1961, and made Aadhaar mandatory for filing of income tax returns, and applying for PAN.
What is the information collected under Aadhaar?
To obtain an Aadhaar number, a person is required to submit their : (i) biometric information (photograph, 10 fingerprints, scans of both irises), and (ii) demographic information (name, date of birth, gender, residential address) to the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI). The Aadhaar number, the demographic and biometric information (called identity information) is together stored in the Central Identities Data Repository. In addition, every time a person’s identity is authenticated using Aadhaar, information related to the authentication request is recorded as well.
How is this information protected?
While India does not have a comprehensive law on privacy and data security, the Aadhaar Act, 2016 has some protections. For example, it prohibits UIDAI and its officers from sharing a person’s identity information and authentication records with anyone. It also forbids a person authenticating another person’s identity from collecting or using their information without their consent. Other protections include prohibitions against publicly displaying a person’s Aadhaar number and sharing of a person’s fingerprints and iris scans with anyone. Note that there are penalties prescribed for violation of these provisions as well.
However, the Act permits information be disclosed in the interest of national security and on the order of a court.
The UIDAI authority has been made responsible for the operation and maintenance of the Aadhaar database, and for laying down the security protocols for its protection.
Why did the courts step in?
Even as Aadhaar is being rolled out, with about 111 crore of the 125 crore population already on the database, there are several important constitutional and legal questions around the unique identity project. While yesterday’s judgement addresses one of these issues, other questions remain unresolved. A description of the key legal questions is provided below.
Privacy: It has been argued that the collection of identity data without adequate safeguards interferes with the fundamental right to privacy protected under Article 21 of the Constitution. Article 21 guarantees right to life and personal liberty. In August 2015, a three judge bench of the Supreme Court passed an order stating that a larger bench must be formed to decide the questions of: (i) whether right to privacy is a fundamental right, and (ii) whether Aadhaar violates this right. However, the court has not set up a larger bench to hear these petitions till June 2017.
Mandatory vs voluntary: Another question before the court is whether Aadhaar can be made mandatory for those government benefits and services, that citizens are entitled to under law. In 2015, the Supreme Court passed some interim orders stating that: (i) Aadhaar cannot be made mandatory for providing citizens with benefits and entitlements, and (ii) it can only be used for seven schemes including PDS distribution of foodgrains and kerosene, LPG distribution scheme, MGNREGA wage payments, and Prime Minister’s Jan Dhan Yojana.11
Subsequently, Parliament enacted the Aadhaar Act, 2016, and the government has been issuing notifications under it to make Aadhaar mandatory for various schemes.3 In light of this, more petitions have been filed challenging these notifications. Judgements on these petitions are awaited as well.
Linking Aadhaar with PAN: In 2017, after Parliament made Aadhaar mandatory for filing of tax returns and applying for PAN under the Income Tax Act, 1961, fresh petitions were filed in the Supreme Court. The new provision stated that if a person failed to link their PAN with the Aadhaar number by a date notified by the central government, their PAN will be invalidated. The government said this will decrease the problem of multiple PAN cards obtained under fictitious names and consequent tax fraud and tax evasion, because Aadhaar will ensure proper identification.1, However, the petitioners argued that this may interfere with a person’s fundamental rights, such as their right to practice any profession, trade or business and right to equality. It is this question that has been addressed in the new judgement.1
Money Bill: The fourth question is related to the manner in which the Aadhaar Act, 2016 was passed by Parliament. The Act was passed as a Money Bill. A Money Bill only needs to be passed by Lok Sabha, while Rajya Sabha may make non-binding recommendations on it. In case of the Aadhaar Act, Rajya Sabha made some recommendations that were rejected by Lok Sabha. It has been argued before the courts that the Aadhaar Act does not qualify as a Money Bill because it contains provisions unrelated to government taxation and expenditure.13,
What has the judgement held?
The Supreme Court has held that the new provision of the Income Tax Act that makes Aadhaar mandatory for income tax assessees is not in violation of the fundamental right to equality, or the fundamental right to practice one’s profession or trade. The petitioners had argued that the new provision discriminates between individual and non-individual assessees (e.g. companies or firms), because it only seeks to address tax fraud by individuals. They had also contended that Aadhaar could not address the problem of tax fraud through duplicate PANs because there was evidence to show that people had multiple Aadhaar numbers as well. The court rejected these arguments (as well as arguments related to freedom to carry on business), stating that Aadhaar is perceived as the best method of eliminating duplicate PANs, and therefore there is reasonable rationale behind linking the PAN database with Aadhaar.1
The court decided not to examine questions related to human dignity and privacy, on the ground that issues affecting Article 21 will be examined by a larger bench to be set up by the court. However, it granted relief to people, who have not enrolled for Aadhaar, by stating that their PAN cards cannot be invalidated till the time when the matter is finally decided by such a bench.
This, in effect, means that the debate around constitutionality and legality of the Aadhaar project will remain ongoing till a judgement is finally pronounced on whether Aadhaar is in violation of right to privacy under Article 21.
 Sections 7, 8 and 57, Aadhaar (Targeted Delivery of Financial and Other Subsidies, Benefits and Services) Act, 2016.
 Unstarred Question No. 4126, Lok Sabha, March 27, 2017; Unstarred Question No. 1209, Lok Sabha, February 9, 2017; S.O. 371 (E), Ministry of Consumer Affairs, Food and Public Distribution, February 8, 2017, http://dfpd.nic.in/writereaddata/Portal/Magazine/Document/1_211_1_aadhaar-notification.pdf; S.O. 369 (E), Ministry of Agriculture and Farmers Welfare, February 8, 2017, http://www.egazette.nic.in/WriteReadData/2017/174076.pdf.
 The Finance Bill, 2017, http://www.prsindia.org/billtrack/the-finance-bill-2017-4681/.
 Regulations 3 and 4, Aadhaar (Enrolment and Update) Regulations, 2016.
 Sections 28-47, Aadhaar (Targeted Delivery of Financial and Other Subsidies, Benefits and Services) Act, 2016.
 Section 33, Section 23, Aadhaar (Targeted Delivery of Financial and Other Subsidies, Benefits and Services) Act, 2016.
 Section 23, Aadhaar (Targeted Delivery of Financial and Other Subsidies, Benefits and Services) Act, 2016.
 “UIDAI achieves 111 crore mark on Aadhaar generation; Unique identity covers over 99 percent adult residents of India”, Press Information Bureau, January 27, 2017.
 Justice K. Puttaswamy (Retd) and Another vs Union of India and Others, Supreme Court, Writ Petition (Civil) No. 494 of 2012; Jairam Ramesh vs Union of India, Writ Petition (Civil) 231 of 2016; S.G. Vombatkere and Another vs Union of India and Others, Supreme Court, Writ Petition (Civil) 797/ 2016; “Aadhaar: What are the pending cases before the Supreme Court”, Indian Express, May 31, 2017, http://indianexpress.com/article/india/aadhaar-what-are-the-pending-cases-before-the-supreme-court/.
 Justice K. Puttaswamy (Retd) and Another vs Union of India and Others, Supreme Court, Writ Petition (Civil) No. 494 of 2012, September 23, 2013, August 11, 2015, October 15, 2015.
 “The Aadhaar/ PAN Judgement”, Indian Constitutional Law and Philosophy Blog, https://indconlawphil.wordpress.com/2017/06/09/the-aadhaarpan-judgment/.
 “Aadhaar: What are the pending cases before the Supreme Court”, Indian Express, May 31, 2017, http://indianexpress.com/article/india/aadhaar-what-are-the-pending-cases-before-the-supreme-court/.
 Uncorrected Lok Sabha Debates, March 22, 2017, Pg. 240, http://126.96.36.199/newdebate/16/11/22032017/Fullday.pdf.
Last week, the Assam Legislative Assembly passed the Assam Cattle Preservation Bill, 2021. The Bill seeks to regulate the slaughter and transportation of cattle and the sale of beef. It replaces the Assam Cattle Preservation Act, 1950, which only provided for restrictions on cattle slaughter. In this post, we examine the Bill and compare it with other state laws on cattle preservation. For a detailed analysis of the Bill, see here.
Cattle preservation under the Bill
The Bill prohibits the slaughter of cows of all ages. Bulls and bullocks, on the other hand, may be slaughtered if they are: (i) over 14 years of age, or (ii) permanently incapacitated due to accidental injury or deformity. Inter-state and intra-state transport of cattle is allowed only for agricultural or animal husbandry purposes. This requires a permit from the competent authority (to be appointed by the state government). Further, the Bill allows the sale of beef and beef products only at certain locations as permitted by the competent authority. No permission for such sale will be granted in areas that are predominantly inhabited by Hindu, Jain, Sikh and other non-beef eating communities, or within a five-kilometre radius of a temple or other Hindu religious institution.
Provisions of the Bill may raise certain issues which we discuss below.
Undue restriction on cattle transport in the north-eastern region of India
The Bill prohibits the transport of cattle from one state to another (or another country) through Assam, except with a permit that such transport is for agricultural or animal husbandry purposes. This may lead to difficulties in movement of cattle to the entire north-eastern region of India. First, the unique geographical location of Assam makes it an unavoidable transit state when moving goods to other north-eastern states. Second, it is unclear why Assam may disallow transit through it for any purposes other than agriculture or animal husbandry that are allowed in the origin and destination states. Note that the Madhya Pradesh Govansh Vadh Pratishedh Adhiniyam, 2004 provides for a separate permit called a transit permit for transporting cattle through the state. Such permit is for the act of transport, without any conditions as to the purpose of transport.
Unrestricted outward transport of cattle to states that regulate slaughter differently from Assam
The Bill restricts the transport of cattle from Assam to any place outside Assam “where slaughter of cattle is not regulated by law”. This implies that cattle may be transported without any restrictions to places outside Assam where cattle slaughter is regulated by law. It is unclear whether this seeks to cover any kind of regulation of cattle slaughter, or only regulation that is similar to the regulation under this Bill. The rationale for restricting inter-state transport may be to pre-empt the possibility of cattle protected under the Bill being taken to other states for slaughter. If that is the intention, it is not clear why the Bill exempts states with any regulation for cattle slaughter from transport restrictions. Other states may not have similar restrictions on cattle slaughter as in the Bill. Note that other states such as Karnataka and Chhattisgarh restrict outgoing cattle transport without making any distinction between states that regulate cattle slaughter and those that do not.
Effective prohibition on sale of beef in Assam
The Bill prohibits the sale of beef within a five-kilometre radius of a temple (which means an area of about 78.5 square kilometres around a temple). This threshold may be overly restrictive. As per the 2011 census, the average town area in Assam is 5.89 square kilometres (sq km) and the average village area is 1.93 sq km. The three largest towns of Assam by area are: (i) Guwahati (219.1 sq km), (ii) Jorhat (53.5 sq km), and (iii) Dibrugarh (20.8 sq km). Hence, even if there is only one temple in the middle of a town, no town in Assam – except Guwahati – can have a beef shop within the town area. Similarly, if a village has even one temple, a beef shop cannot be set up in a large area encompassing several adjoining villages as well. In this manner, the Bill may end up completely prohibiting sale of beef in the entire state, instead of restricting it to certain places.
Note that certain states such as Gujarat, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh and Haryana completely prohibit the sale or purchase of beef within the state. However, they also completely prohibit the slaughter of cows, bulls and bullocks. This is not the case under the Bill, which only places a complete prohibition on slaughter of cows. Further, in places such as Delhi, municipal regulations prohibit the sale of meat (including beef) within 150 metres from a temple or other religious place. This minimum distance requirement does not apply at the time of renewal of license for selling meat if the religious place comes into existence after the grant of such license.
The prohibition on sale of beef in areas predominantly inhabited by communities identified based on religion or food habits (non-beef eating) may also have an unintended consequence. With the food typically consumed by a community becoming unavailable or available only in select locations, it may lead to the segregation of different communities into demarcated residential areas. As per the 2011 census, the population of Assam comprises roughly 61% Hindus, 34% Muslims, and 4% Christians.
Onerous requirement for the accused to pay maintenance cost of seized cattle
Cattle rearing is essentially an economic activity. Under the Bill, cattle may be seized by a police officer on the basis of suspicion that an offence has been or may be committed. Seized cattle may be handed over to a care institution, and the cost of its maintenance during trial will be recovered from such persons as prescribed by the state government through rules. Note that there is no time frame for completing a trial under the Bill. Thus, if the owner or transporter of seized cattle is made liable to pay its maintenance cost, they may be deprived of their source of livelihood for an indefinite period while at the same time incurring a cost.
Cattle preservation laws in other states
The Directive Principles of State Policy under the Constitution call upon the state to prohibit the slaughter of cows, calves, and other milch and draught cattle. Currently, more than 20 states have laws restricting the slaughter of cattle (cows, bulls, and bullocks) and buffaloes to various degrees. Table 1 below shows a comparison of such laws in select states of India. Notably, north-eastern states such as Arunachal Pradesh, Meghalaya, Mizoram and Nagaland do not have any law regulating cattle slaughter.