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Right to privacy – now it’s fundamental!

The talk was well-timed, five days ahead of the Supreme Court judgment on the right to privacy. Senior advocate Arvind P Datar explained in lucid terms the case before the nine-judge bench in his address on the Controversial Right to Privacy.

The court upheld that privacy is a fundamental right and it is part of the right to life and personal liberty. 

Datar’s tenth Rajaji Memorial Lecture was an interesting lesson in effective communication: the diction, precision, brevity, a cogent presentation of facts and their logic kindled memories of such oration by several past legal luminaries.  

Datar divided privacy into three components – physical privacy, informational privacy and decisional autonomy - and described each one of these with simple illustrations. 

Datar explained the concept of privacy in the American society and related the Indian experience through a quick travel from the 1950s. He cited the two landmark judgments: in the cases relating to search and seizure of documents of some Dalmia group companies in 1954 and a history-sheeter’s case in 1962. In both privacy was not held as a fundamental right. 

Datar termed it anachronistic in not treating the right to privacy as a fundamental right. He held that the right to privacy should not be violated by making it compulsory to produce the Aadhaar card for opening a bank account as the issue of the Aadhaar card intruded into physical privacy . 

Datar pointed to the citizens’ accepting to part with personal information demanded for membership of a popular social media like Facebook. But even such demands are questioned, he pointed out. 

I pointed to the American citizens’ readily submitting themselves for parting with data (limited, of course) for getting their social security cards. Without this one cannot imagine living in the US. Does not Aadhaar have the potential to evolve as such an identity of the citizen? 

Datar pointed to the distinction between these two: Aadhaar is helpful in delivering state benefits such as subsidies. If a poor man chooses not to avail any subsidy and not interested in getting the Aadhaar card, he should be protected appreciating his right to privacy, he said.

I have been pointing to the members of Chennai Bar Council dominating other high courts and Supreme Court for years but to their stock drastically dwindling today. Datar is among the few Chennai legal luminaries still shining brightly. He is the counsel for market regulator SEBI in the high-profile Sahara case. 

With an estimated 115 crore of the population opting for the Aadhaar card, this unique identification of the citizen has come to stay. Initiated by the UPA government and vigorously implemented by the NDA II, Aadhaar has received wide acceptance. Widespread benefits have flown in linking Aadhaar to the delivery of several state benefits. Look at the elimination of several lakh bogus claimants to state benefit of subsidised LPG connections!

The unanimous verdict of the Supreme Court will impact  Aadhaar. Senior advocates like Datar argued against the citizens being forced to give their finger prints and  iris scan as violating their privacy. Now a five-judge bench of the apex court will test the validity of Aadhaar from the aspect of privacy as a fundamental right. Amartya Sen’s Argumentative Indian would continue to have a field day.

Senior chartered accountant, G Narayanaswamy, has been keeping alive the memories of Rajaji through the Rajaji Centre for Public Affairs, Triplicane Cultural Academy... The tenth lecture at TCA is among the memorable ones.


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