The Supreme Court verdict on Thursday that individual privacy is a fundamental right protected by the Constitution is a judgement that should be celebrated across the country.
A nine-member bench headed by Chief Justice J S Khehar unanimously pronounced the historic verdict after marathon sessions of arguments for six days. It will undoubtedly uphold the pride of India before the rest of the world. The ruling is also a heavy blow to the Central government’s idiotic stance of making Aadhar mandatory in every aspect of citizens’ daily lives, and not only for availing the benefits from the government. The Centre had also claimed that privacy was not a fundamental right. The apex court emphasised that the right to privacy was inherent in the right to life and personal liberty guaranteed in Article 21 of the Constitution.
The right to life guaranteed by the Constitution states that no person shall be deprived of his right to life and personal liberty except according to procedure established by law. With the latest judgement, two earlier rulings of the Supreme Court that privacy was not a fundamental right, has become invalid. The court had ruled in the M P Sharma case in 1954 and Kharak Singh case in 1962 that privacy was not a fundamental right and that the government had the right to curtail privacy. A five-member bench headed by Chief Justice Khehar while considering a batch of petitions challenging gathering of personal details of citizens for the Aadhar scheme, referred the matter to a nine-judge bench. This five-member panel will now have to decide whether Aadhaar was a breach of fundamental rights. The Supreme Court ruling on Thursday is a significant one, after the case related to the 42nd amendment of the Constitution. It’s the extent of rights of citizens in a democratic system that was established through the verdict. The court which heard the arguments over six days over a batch of petitions filed against the Aadhar scheme, had postponed the pronouncement of the verdict to August 3.
The Centre had argued that the citizens had no absolute right on their body and that several laws, were already curtailing the personal freedom. It was the right to life of millions of poor in the country through food, shelter and welfare measures that was far more important than the apprehensions raised over the privacy factor. Attorney General K K Venugopal had argued in support of the Centre that privacy claims required better priority in developed countries and not in a country like India where a vast majority of citizens are denied access to basic needs. The Centre also maintained that after enrolling nearly100 crore citizens spending an amount of Rs 6, 300 crore, there was no question of going back.
Legal experts Soli Sorabjee, Gopal Subramanium and Shyam Divan strongly argued for declaration of right to privacy as a fundamental right. Sorabjee argued that privacy was an inalienable right inherent in the very personality of Human beings. The fact that no express right to privacy is mentioned in the Constitution does not mean that it doesn’t exist. Claiming so was akin to arguing that the freedom of press is not guaranteed in Article 19 (1) (a). Shyam Divan said that the country had an ‘unbroken line of decisions since 1975’ recognising the right to privacy.
The verdict states that it was part of India’s commitment towards the global human rights system that privacy was being recognised as a fundamental right. It’s when the government take over the responsibility of safeguarding the privacy of citizens, on its own, that the civil society get to experience the benefits of democracy. Let the Centre comprehend at least now that the method of suffocating the civil society by means of close surveillance putting them in invisible prison, is one of supreme authority and authoritarianism.