JALANDHAR, Punjab — Two days after the Supreme Court ruled that private companies could not use the Aadhaar authentication platform without Parliament passing a law to regulate its use, kiosks appeared on the roads of prominent cities in Maharashtra, festooned with banners proclaiming "Aadhaar number link karo. Paytm Karo! Link your Aadhaar number today to continue enjoying full benefits of your Paytm Account."
Paytm declined to comment on the issue when contacted by HuffPost India.
In the weeks following the judgement, telcos, banks and tech companies such as Paytm, Flipkart and Amazon, have continued to insist on users providing their Aadhaar information. Although the court handed down what appeared to be a very clear mandate on the use of Aadhaar, the regulatory bodies in charge of different industries have remained quiet, and in the absence of clear directives, businesses continue to ignore the court.
Majority of SIM activation is being done through Aadhaar
Banks and telcos are both asking for Aadhaar—at a Reliance Jio store in Bengaluru, the executive asked for an Aadhaar card. When questioned about the Supreme Court judgement, he replied, "Sir, I don't know about that, we have not received any instruction to stop using Aadhaar so far."
A source in the company, speaking on background, said that an industry-level response is likely to be formed soon, but in the interim, stores are supposed to accept other forms of ID, and added that the executive had made a lapse.
Another highly placed executive in Jio, on condition of anonymity, revealed that although Aadhaar may not be mandatory now, this could change soon.
"We have sought permission to use the Quick Response (QR) code mentioned on the Aadhaar paper-print which can be used offline for authentication purposes. As the QR code contains minimum demographic information including only the name and the address, it can be used instead of seeking biometrics or the actual Aadhaar number," the executive said.
Even though this hasn't happened yet, asking for Aadhaar is still the norm rather than the exception for telcos.
"Due to lack of awareness, majority of the SIM card activation in rural India is still being done through Aadhaar authentication only," the executive said.
Telcos say delinking Aadhaar is impossible
The Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) has asked telecom companies to submit their plans to exit the Aadhaar-linked authentication system by 15 October. At the same time, sources have claimed that companies have sought a new legislation allowing them to do Aadhaar-linked authentication.
An executive at Airtel said, requesting anonymity, that while the Supreme Court has ordered private companies to delink Aadhaar data from the products, it is a very challenging task.
"We are yet to find a way to delink Aadhaar details from our billions of SIM cards issued till date," the executive said. "The move will erase all data linked to the SIM card holder. It is not only difficult but impossible," claimed the executive.
HuffPost India went to stores of Vodafone, Airtel and Jio, to see whether they were insisting on users producing Aadhaar. While most stores requested Aadhaar upfront, a few that HuffPost India visited were willing to accept other documents, although they also said that with Aadhaar, the number would get activated instantly, while using other documents meant the process could take a couple of days. However, a few stores did say that without Aadhaar they wouldn't be able to give a SIM.
Flipkart and Amazon are also asking for Aadhaar
Ahead of their respective sales this month, e-commerce giants Amazon and Flipkart announced an instant credit of up to Rs 60,000 for customers who would buy their products on instalments.
To avail cash credit from these websites, a customer has to punch in her PAN card details along with Aadhaar number to check her credit ratings, which depends on her shopping history, pattern and products purchased in the past.
While Amazon has introduced the service as part of Amazon Pay, Flipkart has offered it through its "pay later' initiative launched in January. However, it has not removed the mandatory clause of providing 'Aadhaar number' in the enrolment page.
Amazon executives did not respond to calls made to enquire about this. Flipkart's PR agency said it was "not sure" about whether Aadhaar was required, and would look into the matter.
No banking without Aadhaar
Nandip Makwana, a Gandhinagar-based software engineer, visited an Axis Bank branch in Sarkhej, Ahmedabad, on 29 September to open a salary account. However, the branch executives demanded Aadhaar.
"I informed him that Aadhaar is no longer required after the Supreme Court struck down section 57 of the Aadhaar Act and no private entity including a bank can ask for it. However, he refused to open my account," Makwana tweeted.
An Aadhaar card is also required to avail State Bank of India's YONO services, a digital banking platform that allows taxi bookings, online shopping and bill payments. On 3 October, SBI tweeted: "We regret the inconvenience caused. AADHAAR Card and PAN Card are currently mandatory to open Digital Savings Account/ INSTA account through YONO App. You may visit the branch for opening of Regular Savings Account."
The SC verdict is being diluted
Within hours of the Supreme Court's verdict, Union Finance minister Arun Jaitley held a press conference and said that a Parliament-approved legislation could restore mandatory linking of Aadhaar with mobile phones and bank accounts.
"So the whole argument which was given that private companies can't use it, there is Section 57 which says you can authorise others either by law or contract. So what has been struck down is by contract," he said.
He further added that a legal provision through a legislation can restore the authentication use of Aadhaar by private companies. Adding more fuel to the issue, UIDAI CEO Ajay Bhushan Pandey said, in a tweet dated 3 October, that Aadhaar card, e-Aadhaar and paperless offline KYC can be used by an Aadhaar holder for any purpose.
At the same time, despite the Supreme Court's verdict, UIDAI has asked banks and post offices to continue running the Aadhaar enrolment centres in their respective premises.
A recent report quotes Pandey as saying that as Aadhaar is going to be used in the offline mode for opening bank accounts and other services, as well as to access subsidies and file tax returns, banks and post offices would continue to enrol people for Aadhaar.
Aadhaar cannot identify anyone anymore?
Anupam Saraph, professor at the Symbiosis Institute of Computer Studies, claims that since identification is a two-way process, Aadhaar by its nature cannot identity anyone.
"UIDAI in a RTI reply has accepted that it does not certify the use of Aadhaar data nor does it certify the data associated with any Aadhaar number. Then what is the need to launch such a mega identification project in India when no one could certify its authenticity?" asked Saraph.
He added that Aadhaar has become an ill-defined ecosystem where the government had outsourced its abilities to identify an individual.
"Private interests had colonised the entire process of governance in India and Aadhaar has now become a serious national security concern. It has thrown a serious challenge for the sovereign, social and democratic nature of our constitution," said Saraph.