Making Aadhaar mandatory for I-T returns and PAN smells like authoritarianism

From being a mechanism for efficient subsidy delivery, it is fast transmogrifying into a criminalising filter.

 |  5-minute read |   22-03-2017
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This is as dangerous as it can get, and if passed via the Finance Bill, 2017, it’ll become a legislation to criminalise millions of ordinary Indians, as their current identity marker, such as PAN, will be invalidated for the lack of it.

It is the Aadhaar, and at present the gravest threat to civil liberties and our existence as citizens of a democratic republic.

The government on Tuesday proposed making Aadhaar, the card with the specific number issued by the UIDAI – Unique Identification Authority of India, mandatory for filing of income tax returns, as well as for obtaining and retaining the PAN, or permanent account number, that was hitherto necessary for financial transactions such as bank transfer or receiving salaries.

This is the latest in a series of measures, each more draconian than the preceding one, to make Aadhar compulsory for day-to-day existence and availing of civic and public/private amenities. Hungry children will need to have Aadhaar to get mid-day meals in school, in contravention of the Right to Education Act. Pregnant women will need Aadhar to obtain maternity benefits.

Hospitals will charge more if there’s no Aadhaar card. Disabled citizens getting scholarships, rehabilitation of women rescues from sexual trafficking, skills training from the government, farmers subsidies, and scores of other essential services will need Aadhaar, as per the new moves by the government.

From bank transactions to cinema-going, Aadhaar is encroaching into each and every aspect of a citizen’s life. But hitherto, a citizen would only have denied the benefits that s/he’s entitled to by law for not having Aadhaar.

With the latest measure to mandate Aadhaar for filing I-T returns, and for obtaining as well as retaining the PAN, this is moving into the dark area ever, effectively criminalizing those without Aadhaar by turning them into non-compliant citizens in breach of law, the breach being not being able to file the tax returns thanks to the new mandate.

That all this is in direct and dire violation of the Supreme Court order of August 2015, when it stated explicitly that the Aadhaar card would not be mandatory for obtaining benefits, and would only serve as a voluntary identity proof, is a truth staring us in the face.

But the impunity with which this government is flouting SC orders is completely unprecedented.

In addition, the cashless drive is going on unchallenged except from civil society and online freedom forums, with the new upper limit of cash transactions capped at Rs 2 lakh, from Rs 3 lakh that was proposed on February 1 during the Union Budget by finance minister Arun Jaitley.

The pushing of Aadhaar, and the biometric identity database that it creates, is a major indication of increasingly overt authoritarianism determining our government and governance. In the name of eliminating tax evasion, the government is basically creating the domain of default criminality owing to absence of an Aadhaar-based identity proof.

This is dismantling of the democratic republic because Aadhaar, and lack of it, debilitates the citizen from being a powerful unit of a collective rule of the people. Instead, it pushes the citizen at the mercy of a vindictive regime that prizes surveillance and suspicion over rights and freedom, forever threatening the citizen with a possibility of a criminal breach of his/her digital existence and ever-changing rules.

Aadhaar Act, that was passed in early 2016, is a breach of fundamental rights to freedom and liberty and equality. Making it mandatory via the Fiance Bill, 2017, which is being debated (or not) in Lok Sabha since yesterday, is patently unconstitutional, something that this government is going on about with unprecedented hubris.

Also read: Why is government so desperate about Aadhaar that it'll let children go hungry?

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