NEW DELHI: Months after ordering that Aadhaar cards based on unique identification number could not be linked to social welfare schemes to deprive its benefits to those without the cards, the Supreme Court on Tuesday looked at the flip-side and said it could be a useful tool to identify illegal migrants.
Examining the benefits of Aadhaar cards from a national security aspect, a bench of Justices B S Chauhan, J Chelameswar and M Y Eqbal said, “As on date, illegal migration to India continues unabated. By collecting personal details for Aadhaar cards, at least there can be some basis to identify an illegal migrant.”
Justice Chelameswar, who was the chief justice of Gauhati High Court from 2007 to 2010, spoke about the illegal migrant problem in north-eastern states. “Speaking from the records of the court, there are about 10 million illegal migrants in the country,” he said.
In Sarbananda Sonowal case-I and II, the apex court had directed identification of illegal migrants by setting up tribunals under the Foreigners Act, acknowledging that the state of Assam and its culture was in the throes of getting swamped by rampant and unabated illegal migration from Bangladesh.
Elaborating on the difficulties faced by the tribunals set up for identification of illegal tribunals, Justice Chelameswar said, “Whenever notice is issued (to suspected illegal migrants), they say our name is in the electoral list. Assuming each tribunal completes one case a day, it will take two centuries to identify them. Would it not be in the interest of society that this process continues.”
Senior advocate Shyam Divan, appearing for one of the PIL petitioners, said, “It is our apprehension that Aadhaar cards and UID will be given to these 10 million migrants. It is not confined to citizens.” The bench was quick with a rejoinder, “Can apprehension of misuse be a ground for challenge? They can fine-tune this (UID) programme.”
While reiterating its earlier interim order restraining the Centre from forcing people to get Aadhaar cards to avail of welfare scheme benefits, the bench asked whether it could restrain persons from voluntarily availing it. “What if somebody wants the benefits and is willing to give all the information asked for. How can we stop it,” it asked.
It attempted to visualize the controversy from another angle. “If private malls search your pockets in the name of ensuring safety, people are fine with it. But for security of nation, we say this (collection of biometrics under Aadhaar) is unconstitutional. We fail to understand,” it said.