NEW DELHI: The Supreme Court (SC) on Thursday ruled that privacy is a fundamental right because it is intrinsic to the right to life.
“Right to Privacy is an integral part of Right to Life and Personal Liberty guaranteed in Article 21 of the Constitution,” the SC’s nine-judge bench+ ruled unanimously.
It added that the right to privacy is intrinsic to the entire fundamental rights chapter of the Constitution.
This judgement is a blow to Aadhaar as the Centre now has to convince SC that forcing citizens to give a sample of their fingerprints and their iris scan does not violate privacy.
The SC bench’s judgment will touch the lives of 134 crore Indians. It was not meant to decide on the fate of Aadhaar, just on whether privacy of an individual was a part of their inviolable fundamental rights. What this means is a five-judge bench of the SC will test the validity of Aadhaar on the touchstone of privacy as a fundamental right.
The apex court’s nine-judge bench overruled previous judgments on the issue- an eight-judge bench judgment in the MP Sharma case and a six-judge bench judgment in Kharak Singh case, both of which had ruled that privacy is not a fundamental right+ . The bench comprised Justices Khehar, J Chelameswar, S A Bobde, R K Agrawal, R F Nariman, A M Sapre, D Y Chandrachud, Sanjay K Kaul and S Abdul Nazeer.
Attorney general K K Venugopal, who had argued that right to privacy cannot be a fundamental right, welcomed the SC decision.
“Whatever the 9-judge bench says is the correct law,” said Venugopal to TOI.
The question about the constitutional status of right to privacy arose in a bunch of petitions, led by retired HC judge KS Puttaswamy, which in 2012, challenged the UPA government’s decision to introduce the biometric data-enabled Aadhaar ID for citizens. The petitioners included first Chairperson of National Commission for Protection of Child Rights and Magsaysay awardee Shanta Sinha, feminist researcher Kalyani Sen Menon, and others.
This question was referred to a five-judge Constitution bench on August 11, 2015.
The five-judge bench, led by Chief Justice JS Khehar, met on July 18 to decide the issue, but was told by the Centre that the strength of the bench was inadequate as an eight-judge bench in the MP Sharma case in 1954, and a six-judge bench in the Kharak Singh case in 1962, had ruled that right to privacy was not a fundamental right. The bench was quick to refer the matter to a nine-judge bench, which began hearing arguments from July 19, and concluded hearing on August 2, after a lively debate involving renowned lawyers to greenhorns.
The Centre, through attorney general KK Venugopal, argued against privacy being an inviolable fundamental right+ . This argument presented to the bench the constitutional complications intrinsic to privacy when its width and play is examined through the crosswires of fundamental rights.