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29 March 2017 Editorial

 

29 MARCH 2017

Unique distinction

The Supreme Court's oral observations on 28 March 2017 regarding the use of Aadhaar numbers by the government are significant, for they alter the narrative and potential scope of the ambitious unique identification programme. While reiterating its position that no beneficiary of a welfare scheme shall be denied benefits due to her for want of an Aadhaar number, a Bench led by Chief Justice J.S. Khehar said the government is free to "press" for Aadhaar for ‘non-welfare' transactions or activities. These include filing income tax returns, opening bank accounts or getting a mobile phone connection. This assumes significance as the government announced two such changes over the past week itself. First, it included amendments to the Finance Bill of 2017, now approved by the Lok Sabha, making Aadhaar mandatory for all applications for PAN (Permanent Account Number) cards and filing of income tax returns. Earlier, following the surge in bank deposits after the demonetisation of high-value currency notes, the Income Tax Department had already asked banks to ensure that all savings bank accounts are seeded with PAN details by the end of February. The only exemptions to this norm are the no-frills savings accounts such as those opened under the Pradhan Mantri Jan DhanYojana. Effectively, this means that all other new savings bank accounts will require an Aadhaar number. And last week the Department of Telecommunications directed all telecom service providers to reverify the credentials of their nearly 100 crore subscribers through an Aadhaar-based, electronically authenticated KnowYour Customer process within a year.

While the Supreme Court's observations do not amount to a judicial order, they dispel some of the ambiguity relating to the scope, even future, of Aadhaar. In its interim order in October 2015 the court made it clear that the Aadhaar scheme cannot be made mandatory till the matter is finally decided "one way or the other". But it has set the stage for the 12-digit Unique Identification (UID) numbers being used as the basic identity proof for all residents. As Finance Minister Arun Jaitley has pointed out, biometrics captured under the Aadhaar enrolment process will ensure no individual can hold more than one PAN card to evade tax dues. Those concerned about privacy may be right about the need for an effective law to ensure that private data aren't misused. But tagging this concern solely to the UID programme is short-sighted. In an age where data are stored in electronic form, it is possible to collate vast amounts of information from various databases ranging from applications for passports, driving licences, ration cards, and more. The apex court is yet to decide on whether Aadhaar violates the right to privacy. Meanwhile, savings from weeding out ghost beneficiaries have begun to pay of the investment on building the now 111-crore strong Aadhaar database. But the Centre must not stretch the leeway granted by the court.

 

Passing the Tests

Dharamshala's Himachal Pradesh Cricket Association Stadium, a picturesque sporting venue, witnessed a remarkable slice of history as India defeated Australia by eight wickets to win the fourth and final Test and secure the series 2-1. "It is our best series win," said skipper Virat Kohli, who had missed the game owing to a shoulder injury. But as has been the tale through the last seven months when his teammates coped well with constant changes in the playing eleven, the captain's absence was never felt. Ajinkya Rahane stepped up with quiet aggression, led astutely, his rapid unbeaten 38 ensuring that there were no needless alarms as India chased a meagre 106 in its second innings. It was a fine finish to a long home season of 13 Tests in which New Zealand, England, Bangladesh and Australia were all defeated. India won 10 Tests, drew two and lost just the one, the 333-run loss to Australia in the first Test at Pune. Last September, the campaign commenced on a rousing note as India, incidentally in its 500th Test, defeated New Zealand by 197 runs at Kanpur. Kohli and team then travelled across the country before finding their acme in the rarefied heights of the Himalayas as an ever-competitive Australia, second best in Tests according to International Cricket Council rankings, fought hard before ebbing away.

The series against Australia, always a tough scrutiny of skill and temperament, never left the Indians bogged down. The Pune loss was seen, in hindsight at least, as a reality-check before parity was restored at Bengaluru. Australia drew at Ranchi, and for the climax Dharamshala offered the best pitch of the series. True to the nature of jousts between India and Australia, sledging and the mud-slinging through sections of the media added a bitter side-show. But the cricket was riveting. By his own exalted standards, Kohli failed - 46 runs from five innings - against Australia, while his counterpart Steve Smith flourished with 499 and three tons. Yet, India prevailed, and that is a tribute to the squad's resilience and the ability to find diverse heroes at different times. Be it Jayant Yadav, Karun Nair or Kuldeep Yadav, the hosts have found key players on crucial occasions since September. The fulcrum may have initially rested upon Kohli (1252 runs this season) and R. Ashwin (82 wickets), but there were others who came good too. The Saurashtra duo of Cheteshwar Pujara and Ravindra Jadeja was consistent. The former amassed 1316 runs, the latter bagged wickets and scored crucial runs. K.L. Rahul sparkled atop the batting pole and Umesh Yadav showed that speedsters can prosper even on pitches with an inherent bias towards spin. The No. 1 Test side has proved its mettle, albeit at home. There will be tougher battles overseas, but before that the players will split and dive into the glitzy Indian Premier League.

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