Right To Privacy Is A Fundamental Right

REPORTABLE

IN THE SUPREME COURT OF INDIA

CIVIL ORIGINAL JURISDICTION
WRIT PETITION (CIVIL) NO.494 OF 2012

Justice K.S. Puttaswamy (Retd.) & Another … Petitioners
Versus
Union of India & Others … Respondents

WITH
TRANSFERRED CASE (CIVIL) NO.151 OF 2013
TRANSFERRED CASE (CIVIL) NO.152 OF 2013
WRIT PETITION (CIVIL) NO.829 OF 2013
WRIT PETITION (CIVIL) NO.833 OF 2013
WRIT PETITION (CIVIL) NO.932 OF 2013
TRANSFER PETITION (CIVIL) NO.312 OF 2014
TRANSFER PETITION (CIVIL) NO.313 OF 2014
WRIT PETITION (CIVIL) NO.37 OF 2015
WRIT PETITION (CIVIL) NO.220 OF 2015
TRANSFER PETITION (CIVIL) NO.921 OF 2015
CONTEMPT PETITION (CIVIL) NO.144 OF 2014 IN WP(C) 494/2012
CONTEMPT PETITION (CIVIL) NO.470 OF 2015 IN WP(C) 494/2012

O R D E R

1. In this batch of matters, a scheme propounded by the Government of India popularly known as “Aadhaar Card Scheme” is under attack on various counts. For the purpose of this order, it is not necessary for us to go into the details of the nature of the scheme and the various counts on which the scheme is attacked. Suffice it to say that under the said scheme the Government of India is collecting and compiling both the demographic and biometric data of the residents of this country to be used for various purposes, the details of which are not relevant at present.

2. One of the grounds of attack on the scheme is that the very collection of such biometric data is violative of the “right to privacy”. Some of the petitioners assert that the right to privacy is implied under Article 21 of the Constitution of India while other petitioners assert that such a right emanates not only from Article 21 but also from various other articles embodying the fundamental rights guaranteed under Part-III of the Constitution of India.

3. When the matter was taken up for hearing, Shri Mukul Rohatgi, learned Attorney General made a submission that in view of the judgments of this Court in M.P. Sharma & Others v. Satish Chandra & Others, AIR 1954 SC 300 and Kharak Singh v. State of U.P. & Others, AIR 1963 SC 1295, (decided by Eight and Six Judges respectively) the legal position regarding the existence of the fundamental right to privacy is doubtful. Further, the learned Attorney General also submitted that in a catena of decisions of this Court rendered subsequently, this Court referred to “right to privacy”, contrary to the judgments in the abovementioned cases which resulted in a jurisprudentially impermissible divergence of judicial opinions.

“A power of search and seizure is in any system of jurisprudence
an overriding power of the State for the protection of social security
and that power is necessarily regulated by law. When the
Constitution makers have thought fit not to subject such
regulation to constitutional limitations by recognition of a
fundamental right to privacy, analogous to the American Fourth
Amendment, we have no justification to import it, into a totally
different fundamental right, by some process of strained
construction. [See: M.P. Singh & Others v. Satish Chandra & Others,
AIR 1954 SC 300, page 306 para 18]

“… Nor do we consider that Art. 21 has any relevance in the
context as was sought to be suggested by learned counsel for the
petitioner. As already pointed out, the right of privacy is not a
guaranteed right under our Constitution and therefore the
attempt to ascertain the movement of an individual which is
merely a manner in which privacy is invaded is not an
infringement of a fundamental right guaranteed by Part III.”

[See: Kharak Singh v. State of U.P. & Others, AIR 1963 SC 1295, page 1303 para 20] [Emphasis supplied]

4. Learned Attorney General submitted that such impermissible divergence of opinion commenced with the judgment of this Court in Gobind v. State of M.P. & Another, (1975) 2 SCC 148, which formed the basis for the subsequent decision of this Court wherein the “right to privacy” is asserted or at least referred to. The most important of such cases are R. Rajagopal & Another v. State of Tamil Nadu & Others, (1994) 6 SCC 632 (popularly known as Auto Shanker’s case) and People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL) v. Union of India & Another, (1997) 1 SCC 301.

5. All the judgments referred to above were rendered by smaller Benches of two or three Judges.

6. Shri K.K. Venugopal, learned senior counsel appearing for one of the respondents submitted that the decision of this Court in Gobind (supra) is not consistent with the decisions of this Court in M.P. Sharma and Kharak Singh. He submitted that such divergence is also noticed by the academicians, Shri F.S. Nariman, Senior Advocate of this Court and Shri A.M. Bhattacharjee , Former Chief Justice, High Court at Calcutta and High Court at Bombay.

7. Therefore, it is submitted by the learned Attorney General and Shri Venugopal that to settle the legal position, this batch of matters is required to be heard by a larger Bench of this Court as these matters throw up for debate important questions – (i) whether there is any “right to privacy” guaranteed under our Constitution. (ii) If such a right exists, what is the source and what are the contours of such a right as there is no express provision in the Constitution adumbrating the right to privacy. It is therefore submitted that these batch of matters are required to be heard and decided by a larger bench of at least five Judges in view of the mandate contained under Article 145(3)2 of the Constitution of India.

8. On behalf of the petitioners Shri Gopal Subramanium and Shri Shyam Divan, learned senior counsel very vehemently opposed the suggestion that this batch of matters is required to be heard by a larger bench. According to them:

(i) The conclusions recorded by this Court in R. Rajagopal and PUCL are legally tenable for the reason that the observations made in M.P. Sharma regarding the absence of right to privacy under our Constitution are not part of ratio decidendi of that case and, therefore, do not bind the subsequent smaller Benches.

(ii) Coming to the case of Kharak Singh, majority in Kharak Singh did hold that the right of a person not to be disturbed at his residence by the State and its officers is recognized to be a part of a fundamental right guaranteed under Article 21 which is nothing but an aspect of privacy. The observation in para 20 of the majority judgment at best can be construed only to mean that there is no fundamental right of privacy against the State’s authority to keep surveillance on the activities of a person. Even such a conclusion cannot be good law any more in view of the express declaration made by a seven-Judge bench decision of this Court in Maneka Gandhi v. Union of India & Another, (1978) 1 SCC 2483

(iii) They further argued that both M.P. Sharma (supra) and Kharak Singh (supra) came to be decided on an interpretation of the Constitution based on the principles expounded in A.K. Gopalan v. State of Madras, AIR 1950 SC 27. Such principles propounded by A.K. Gopalan themselves came to be declared wrong by a larger Bench of this Court in Rustom Cavasjee Cooper v. Union of India, (1970) 1 SCC 248. Therefore, there is no need for the instant batch of matters to be heard by a larger Bench. 9. It is true that Gobind (supra) did not make a clear declaration that there is a right to privacy flowing from any of the fundamental rights guaranteed under Part-III of the Constitution of India, but observed that “Therefore, even assuming that the right to personal liberty, the right to move freely throughout the territory of India and the freedom of speech create an independent right of privacy as an emanation from them which one can characterize as a fundamental right, we do not think that the right is absolute”. This Court proceeded to decide the case on such basis.

10. However, the subsequent decisions in R. Rajagopal (supra) and PUCL (supra), the Benches were more categoric in asserting the existence of “right to privacy”. While R. Rajagopal’s case4 held that the “right to privacy” is implicit under Article 21 of the Constitution, PUCL’s case held that the “right to privacy” insofar as it pertains to speech is part of fundamental rights under Articles 19(1)(a) and 21 of the Constitution.

11. Elaborate submissions are made at the bar by the learned counsel for the petitioners to demonstrate that world over in all the countries where Anglo-Saxon jurisprudence is followed, ‘privacy’ is recognised as an important aspect of the liberty of human beings. It is further submitted that it is too late in the day for the Union of India to argue that the Constitution of India does not recognise privacy as an aspect of the liberty under Article 21 of the Constitution of India. At least to the extent that the right of a person to be secure in his house and not to be disturbed unreasonably by the State or its officers is expressly recognized and protected in Kharak Singh (supra) though the majority did not describe that aspect of the liberty as a right of privacy, it is nothing but the right of privacy.

12. We are of the opinion that the cases on hand raise far reaching questions of importance involving interpretation of the Constitution. What is at stake is the amplitude of the fundamental rights including that precious and inalienable right under Article 21. If the observations made in M.P. Sharma (supra) and Kharak Singh (supra) are to be read literally and accepted as the law of this country, the fundamental rights guaranteed under the Constitution of India and more particularly right to liberty under Article 21 would be denuded of vigour and vitality. At the same time, we are also of the opinion that the institutional integrity and judicial discipline require that pronouncement made by larger Benches of this Court cannot be ignored by the smaller Benches without appropriately explaining the reasons for not following the pronouncements made by such larger Benches. With due respect to all the learned Judges who rendered the subsequent judgments – where right to privacy is asserted or referred to their Lordships concern for the liberty of human beings, we are of the humble opinion that there appears to be certain amount of apparent unresolved contradiction in the law declared by this Court.

13. Therefore, in our opinion to give a quietus to the kind of controversy raised in this batch of cases once for all, it is better that the ratio decidendi of M.P. Sharma (supra) and Kharak Singh (supra) is scrutinized and the jurisprudential correctness of the subsequent decisions of this Court where the right to privacy is either asserted or referred be examined and authoritatively decided by a Bench of appropriate strength.

14. We, therefore, direct the Registry to place these matters before the Hon’ble the Chief Justice of India for appropriate orders.

(J. Chelameswar)
(S.A. Bobde)
(C. Nagappan)
New Delhi
August 11, 2015

REPORTABLE

IN THE SUPREME COURT OF INDIA

CIVIL ORIGINAL JURISDICTION
WRIT PETITION (CIVIL) NO.494 OF 2012

Justice K.S. Puttaswamy (Retd.) & Another … Petitioners
Versus
Union of India & Others … Respondents

WITH
TRANSFERRED CASE (CIVIL) NO.151 OF 2013
TRANSFERRED CASE (CIVIL) NO.152 OF 2013
WRIT PETITION (CIVIL) NO.829 OF 2013
WRIT PETITION (CIVIL) NO.833 OF 2013
WRIT PETITION (CIVIL) NO.932 OF 2013
TRANSFER PETITION (CIVIL) NO.312 OF 2014
TRANSFER PETITION (CIVIL) NO.313 OF 2014
WRIT PETITION (CIVIL) NO.37 OF 2015
WRIT PETITION (CIVIL) NO.220 OF 2015
TRANSFER PETITION (CIVIL) NO.921 OF 2015
CONTEMPT PETITION (CIVIL) NO.144 OF 2014 IN WP(C) 494/2012
CONTEMPT PETITION (CIVIL) NO.470 OF 2015 IN WP(C) 494/2012

O R D E R
Having regard to importance of the matter, it is desirable
that the matter be heard at the earliest.

(J. Chelameswar)
(S.A. Bobde)
(C. Nagappan)
New Delhi
August 11, 2015

REPORTABLE

IN THE SUPREME COURT OF INDIA

CIVIL ORIGINAL JURISDICTION
WRIT PETITION (CIVIL) NO.494 OF 2012

Justice K.S. Puttaswamy (Retd.) & Another … Petitioners
Versus
Union of India & Others … Respondents

WITH
TRANSFERRED CASE (CIVIL) NO.151 OF 2013
TRANSFERRED CASE (CIVIL) NO.152 OF 2013
WRIT PETITION (CIVIL) NO.829 OF 2013
WRIT PETITION (CIVIL) NO.833 OF 2013
WRIT PETITION (CIVIL) NO.932 OF 2013
TRANSFER PETITION (CIVIL) NO.312 OF 2014
TRANSFER PETITION (CIVIL) NO.313 OF 2014
WRIT PETITION (CIVIL) NO.37 OF 2015
WRIT PETITION (CIVIL) NO.220 OF 2015
TRANSFER PETITION (CIVIL) NO.921 OF 2015
CONTEMPT PETITION (CIVIL) NO.144 OF 2014 IN WP(C) 494/2012
CONTEMPT PETITION (CIVIL) NO.470 OF 2015 IN WP(C) 494/2012

I N T E R I M O R D E R

After the matter was referred for decision by a larger Bench, the learned counsel for the petitioners prayed for further interim orders. The last interim order in force is the order of this Court dated 23.9.2013 which reads as follows:-

“….
All the matters require to be heard
finally. List all matters for final hearing
after the Constitution Bench is over.
In the meanwhile, no person
should suffer for not getting the Aadhaar
card inspite of the fact that some authority
had issued a circular making it mandatory
and when any person applies to get the
Aadhaar card voluntarily, it may be
checked whether that person is entitled for
it under the law and it should not be given
to any illegal immigrant.”

It was submitted by Shri Shyam Divan, learned counsel for the petitioners that the petitioners having pointed out a serious breach of privacy in their submissions, preceding the reference, this Court may grant an injunction restraining the authorities from proceeding further in the matter of obtaining biometrics etc. for an Aadhaar card. Shri Shyam Divan submitted that the biometric information of an individual can be circulated to other authorities or corporate bodies which, in turn can be used by them for commercial exploitation and, therefore, must be stopped.

The learned Attorney General pointed out, on the other hand, that this Court has at no point of time, even while making the interim order dated 23.9.2013 granted an injunction restraining the Unique Identification Authority of India from going ahead and obtaining biometric or other information from a citizen for the purpose of a Unique Identification Number, better known as “Aadhaar card”. It was further submitted that the respondents have gone ahead with the project and have issued Aadhaar cards to about 90% of the population. Also that a large amount of money has been spent by the Union Government on this project for issuing Aadhaar cards and that in the circumstances, none of the well-known consideration for grant of injunction are in favour of the petitioners.

The learned Attorney General stated that the respondents do not share any personal information of an Aadhaar card holder through biometrics or otherwise with any other person or authority. This statement allays the apprehension for now, that there is a widespread breach of privacy of those to whom an Aadhaar card has been issued. It was further contended on behalf of the petitioners that there still is breach of privacy. This is a matter which need not be gone into further at this stage.

The learned Attorney General has further submitted that the Aadhaar card is of great benefit since it ensures an effective implementation of several social benefit schemes of the Government like MGNREGA, the distribution of food, ration and kerosene through PDS system and grant of subsidies in the distribution of LPG. It was, therefore, submitted that restraining the respondents from issuing further Aadhaar cards or fully utilising the existing Aadhaar cards for the social schemes of the Government should be allowed.

The learned Attorney General further stated that the respondent Union of India would ensure that Aadhaar cards would only be issued on a consensual basis after informing the public at large about the fact that the preparation of Aadhaar card involving the parting of biometric information of the individual, which shall however not be used for any purpose other than a social benefit schemes.

Having considered the matter, we are of the view that the balance of interest would be best served, till the matter is finally decided by a larger Bench if the Union of India or the UIDA proceed in the following manner:-

1. The Union of India shall give wide publicity in the electronic and print media including radio and television networks that it is not mandatory for a citizen to obtain an Aadhaar card;

2. The production of an Aadhaar card will not be condition for obtaining any benefits otherwise due to a citizen;

3. The Unique Identification Number or the Aadhaar card will not be used by the respondents for any purpose other than the PDS Scheme and in particular for the purpose of distribution of foodgrains, etc. and cooking fuel, such as kerosene. The Aadhaar card may also be used for the purpose of the LPG Distribution Scheme;

4. The information about an individual obtained by the Unique Identification Authority of India while issuing an Aadhaar card shall not be used for any other purpose, save as above, except as may be directed by a Court for the purpose of criminal investigation. Ordered accordingly.

(J. Chelameswar)
(S.A. Bobde)
(C. Nagappan)
New Delhi
August 11, 2015

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