India's Attorney General Mukul Rohatgi has told a Supreme Court Bench, hearing a petition challenging the constitutional validity of Section 139AA of the Income Tax Act that makes Aadhaar mandatory for PAN and for filing tax returns, that "the concept of absolute right over one's body was a myth".
Rohatgi argued that had people absolute right over their bodies, then committing suicide would have been permissible under law, and "people would have been allowed to do whatever they wanted with their bodies."
Rohatgi's comments are a direct counter to advocate Shyam Divan's brilliant exposition last week about the intrusive nature of Aadhaar and the citizen's right to bodily integrity. Two writ petitions currently challenge the amendment to the Income Tax Act — one filed by CPI Leader Binoy Viswam, represented by Aravind Datar, and second one by retired Major General Sudhir Vombatkere and Dalit activist Bezwada Wilson, represented by Divan.
"There is no absolute right over the body. If such a right existed then committing suicide would have been permitted and people would have been allowed to do whatever they wanted with their bodies. The right not to have bodily intrusion is not absolute, and the life of a person can also be taken away by following a due procedure of law. People cannot commit suicide and take drugs," the AG told the court.
As a matter of fact, the new Mental Healthcare Bill 2016, that was recently cleared by both Rajya Sabha and Lok Sabha, decriminalised suicide by separating it from the Indian Penal Code.
Rohatgi went on to give the example of a breathalyzer. He said drunk drivers were also required to measure their breath for alcohol content. However the court said that the examples given by him "were not appropriate as the case pertains to taxation law and not with offence."
Rohatgi told the division bench of the apex court headed by Justice Arjan Kumar Sikri that the Central Government was entitled to have identification and people couldn't claim immunity from it, ANI added. "There are safeguards for privacy under the Aadhaar Act. Under the act the authority shall ensure security, confidentiality of data," Rohtagi said.
Divan is likely to argue the case today.
The SC had earlier asked the government why Aadhaar was being made compulsory for filing Income Tax returns, referring to its order in 2015.
"How can you make Aadhaar card mandatory when we have passed an order to make it optional," the court said. It had earlier on 27 March specified that the Aadhaar should not be made mandatory for availing governmental schemes. In a violation of the apex court's order, the Centre introduced last-minute amendments to the Finance Bill 2017, making Aadhaar mandatory for filing taxes.
"My fingerprints and iris are mine and my own. As far as I am concerned, the State cannot take away my body. This imperils my life. As long as my body is concerned, the State cannot expropriate it without consent, and for a limited purpose," Divan had argued.