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Aadhaar as an obstruction

Aadhaar as an obstruction
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Getting caste certificate from a government authority became a herculian task for the people. Caste is recognised as a social group by the law, that...

Getting caste certificate from a government authority became a herculian task for the people. Caste is recognised as a social group by the law, that indicates backwardness of a class of people. If poverty is one type of backwardness, non-inclusion, denial of general benefits a society extends to all amount to serious insult of certain communities for thousands of years. It is justified to recognise them as a group who were excluded whereas they have every right to be included. To avail of the services and rights specified for these socially backward classes, it became essential to have ‘caste’ certificate to be issued by an authority. Fake caste certificate issuance reflects the corruption in the system. It should be considered as cheating the Constitution also because certain facilities are given to particular caste people. If this service is not time-bound it will cause serious problems and might even lead to denial of certain employment or opportunities or benefits.

Recently a new problem came up before the Informaiton Commission in second appeal hearing, where the government refused to give certificate because there was no Aadhaar card number to the applicant.

There was no response to Indra Singh’s RTI request on June 6, 2013 regarding his application for caste certificate and other details. In compliance to the First Appellate Authority’s order to give complete information, PIO informed that his application for caste certificate was refused because Aadhaar card number was not given. Dissatisfied with this he approached the Information Commission. When Indra applied for caste certificate in 2012, Aadhaar Card was not an essential requirement. After he filed a request to know the action on his application for Caste Certificate, the department woke up and fed the details into computer, which was programed to reject applications having no Aadhaar number. Under the RTI, the PIO promptly supplied the copy of that computer-generated-sheet to Indra.

Section 4 of RTI Act, says, “every public authority shall— (c) publish all relevant facts while formulating important policies or announcing the decisions which affect public, (d) provide reasons for its administrative or quasi-judicial decisions to affected persons”. It is a serious policy issue which is affecting people and creating difficulties in getting caste certificate.

What RTI Act says
From the RTI application, it is revealed that the Department has not made any public announcement as to the requirement of Aadhaar card for issuing the caste certificate which is the fundamental duty of administrators. This is an administrative decision of the public authority to impose ‘Aadhaar’ as a condition for securing the Caste Certificate. As per law it is mandatory for the Public Authority to provide reasons for its administrative or judicial decisions, affecting the people. The PIO was expected to apply his mind to these aspects instead of giving a copy of the letter generated by the computer mechanically without considering any of the factors discussed before the Commission. Even the First Appellate Authority was also not ready to apply his mind. The computer’s mind was used as their mind without discretion. They did not even try to understand the judgment of the Supreme Court in this regard.

Apex court’s order
The Supreme Court in UIDAI Vs CBI (Special Leave to Appeal (Crl) No(s).2524/2014) clearly strated that Aadhaar card should not be an impediment in providing certain services to the citizens. In its order of March 24, 2014, the Supreme Court said that an Aadhaar card was not compulsory for availing any facility from a government authority and any authority making such a card mandatory would have to modify its circulars and notifications to that effect.

This is an administrative decision of the public authority to impose Aadhaar as a condition for securing Caste Certificate. This was incorporated into the software and that is rejecting the applications for caste certificate mechanically finding no Aadhaar card finally resulting in denial of other benefits based on caste certificate. Thus the Public Authority has violated these two provisions of the RTI Act which should have been voluntarily disclosed by the Public authority without somebody asking for information under the RTI. The RTI Act made it clear that what a public authority should disclose on its own is different from the informaiton that could be sought as a right by applicants by paying fee. Non-disclosure of obligatory information under Section 4 compels people to pay Rs 10 and seek information under 3 which is against the spirit of the RTI Act. The Publi Authorityhas violated Section 4 and also Section 3 of the RTI Act by not providing it at least, in response to the application.

It is pathetic that even after the RTI application is filed long ago, information about this condition was neither given to all nor at least to appellant. The Public Authority has to explain the reasons for formulating such a policy-making Aadhaar card number mandatory for issuance of caste certificate. For a long time they have been issuing caste certificates without insisting on this new condition. It is their duty to inform the people about new condition and also to explain the reasons for this new policy. It is breach of principles of natural justice to deny the certificate which they were getting all these years without informing them the change in the requirement. Whether a person is eligible to get Aadhaar card or not, he would be certainly eligible to get certfication of his caste. The authorities cannot take the excuse of absence of Aadhaar card to deny the rights of people. This was made very specific by the Supreme Court on several occassions. The Commission has servced notice to the PIO to explain why penalty cannot be imposed for denial of information which is violation of the RTI Act. The Commission also has to direct the head of the Public Authority to explain the reasons for such policy which is in clear violation of orders of the Supreme Court and their proposed action thereof to resolve the problems in the issue of caste certificates in the form of a policy document, which shall be placed on official website in both Hindi and English. The appellant and also the Commission have a right to get informed about this. Breach of administrative ethics can be brought out by RTI.

By: Madabhushi Sridhar

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