The Congress on Wednesday welcomed the Supreme Court verdict striking down certain provisions of the Aadhaar scheme, terming it a 'slap' on the Bharatiya Janata Party's face, and said it will approach the apex court to reconsider the plea against passage of the legislation as a money bill.
The opposition party said by scrapping the 'draconian' Section 57 and the national security exception in the Aadhaar Act, the Supreme Court firmly put an end to a 'mass surveillance exercise' being carried out under the guise of Aadhaar by the central government and the 'grotesque distortion' of an idea conceived by the previous United Progressive Alliance dispensation.
Congress leader Kapil Sibal also expressed satisfaction over exclusion of private companies from Aadhaar project and said the idea to involve private companies was not just 'undemocratic' but was against the spirit of democracy.
A five-judge constitution bench headed by Chief Justice Dipak Misra on Wednesday held that while Aadhaar scheme was constitutionally valid and would remain mandatory for filing of IT returns and allotment of Permanent Account Number (PAN), it would not be mandatory to link Aadhaar to bank accounts and the telecom service providers cannot seek its linking for mobile connections.
The court upheld the passage of the Aadhaar Bill as a Money Bill by the Lok Sabha. However, Justice D Y Chandrachud, who wrote the judgement separately, said that the Aadhaar Act could not have been passed as Money Bill as it amounted to a fraud on the Constitution.
Sibal said his party supports the views of Justice Chandrachud. The Congress party and its leader Jairam Ramesh had challenged the passage of the bill in the House as Money Bill.
"We will approach a seven-judge bench to consider this verdict again as this is clearly not a Money Bill," he said.
Sibal said the party will certainly move the court if amendments in the Aadhaar Act to be brought after this verdict are not brought in Rajya Sabha for discussion.
"If the government does not bring the Act to the Rajya Sabha for amendments, we will definitely move the Supreme Court," he told reporters.
The former Union minister alleged that the law violates fundamental right to privacy and is a gross abuse of the Money Bill route.
Money Bills can be introduced only in Lok Sabha and must be returned by the Rajya Sabha to the Lok Sabha within 14 days or the bill is deemed to have been passed by both houses in the form passed by the Lok Sabha.
Also Rajya Sabha can only recommend amendments. The Lok Sabha Speaker certifies the bill as a money bill before sending it to the upper house.
The Congress had alleged that the government had moved it as a money bill in 2016 to bypass the Rajya Sabha as it lacked majority in the upper house.
Sibal said the Congress was aware that data of crores of people may have fallen in wrong hands and the court decision will prevent information from going into private hands.
He said the party may move a petition in this regard for deletion of data already in the hands of private players, saying it concerns their right to privacy.
"We will, if necessary, move court to ensure this data is destroyed," he said.
Sibal noted that the government must see Aadhaar as an administrative tool for delivery of benefits as was originally intended and the Congress party wanted that the marginalised and the poor get the benefits of government schemes and are not left out.
Pointing out some of the grey areas, he said the Congress will also seek to ensure that those who are unable to give biometric details like fingerprints are also enrolled under Aadhaar.
Sibal said the court has made it clear that the government cannot obtain data of individuals without permission from court.
"Had the government not been arrogant and allowed the democratic process to work, none of this would have happened. The result of all this is crores of people's biometric data is now in private hands. This is immeasurable harm done to the polity and democracy in country," he said.
The Congress leader said an individual has the right to move the court if the Act is violated and 'we welcome that'.
"We welcome the Supreme Court's decision to strike down Section 57 of the Aadhaar Act. Private entities are no longer allowed to use Aadhaar for verification purposes," the Congress said on its official Twitter handle.
Congress leader Abhishek Singhvi also tweeted, saying, "Slap on the face of BJP. Justice Sikri judgement strikes down Section 57 of Aadhaar Act, 2016, which says private body corporates can seek Aadhaar data. Says it's unconstitutional. All plans to monetise biometric data now fail."
He also hailed the Supreme Court's move to disallow metadata to be stored in its current form.
"If the information of an individual's personal details is sought to be released, he or she shall have an opportunity to be heard," he said.
Party chief spokesperson Randeep Singh Surjewala said the Supreme Court verdict 'upholds the individual's right to privacy'.
'Modi Govt's draconian Section 57 quashed - bank account, mobile, school, airlines, travel agents, private entities requiring Aaadhar data quashed,' he said on Twitter.
The court has struck down the national security exception under the Aadhaar (Targeted Delivery of Financial and other Subsidies, Benefits and Services) Act, 2016, besides Section 57 which permitted private entities like telecom companies or other corporates to avail Aadhaar data.