Mrs. R. Annal vs. The State of Tamil Nadu

Mrs. R. Annal v. The State of Tamil Nadu
In the High Court of Judicature at Madras
W.P.No.9314 of 2019

Petitioner
Mrs. R. Annal
Respondent
The State of Tamil Nadu
Date of Judgement
15 April, 2019

Bench
Hon'ble Mr. Justice S.M. Subramaniam

Background:

Since time immemorial, there has been multitudinous debates with regard to whether the government’s initiative of Aadhaar scheme, have fallen short of standards required to protect privacy and data protection. In the present day scenario, these debates have vitalized with the introduction of‘Aadhaar Enabled Biometric system’, because of the persistent failure of the Indian government to legislate upon much needed comprehensive data protection and privacy laws. Furthermore, the other concomitant problem is with regard to its implementation, for example, in the State of Jharkhand there has been a 49% failure to match rate, and also in the State of Rajasthan there has been 37% failure to match rate. Thus, manifesting that in 49% of Aadhaar holders in Jharkhand and 37% of them in Rajasthan were unable to get matched to their digital biometric identifier. Thus, raising a question, whether the initiative of Aadhaar Enable Biometric system should be implemented? 

Facts of the Case :

On 25th October 2018, there has been an implementation of Aadhar Enabled Biometric Attendance System (AEBAS) for Teaching and Non-Teaching Staff employed in Government and Government Aided High Schools or Higher Secondary Schools across the State of Tamil Nadu. Mrs. R. Annal, a teacher in Government High School, Vembanoor, Nagercoil, Kanyakumari District, filed the petition for challenging the said implementation. 

Arguments advanced:

Arguments in favour of Petitioner’s:

The petitioner (Mrs. Annal) contended that she has not enrolled herself under “the Aadhaar Act” as the same is not mandatory and thereby, not possessing Aadhaar Card or Aadhaar Number. The petitioner further challenge the State Government’s implementation of AEBAS by citing Section 7 of Aadhaar Act, which explains that Aadhhar Number can merely be used for purposes of establishing the identity of an individual as a condition for receipt of a subsidy, benefit or service, where the expenditure is incurred from, or the receipt is a part of the Consolidated Fund of India. Further, in order to explain the benefit or service as mentioned under Section 7, the petitioner relied upon the judgment of Justice K.S.Puttaswamy(Retired Hon’ble Judge) and Another Vs. Union of India and Ors., which stated that “the benefit or service should be those which have the colour of some kind of subsidies, etc., namely, welfare schemes of the Government.”Hence, it was contended by the petitioner that the imposition of Aadhar Number for any purpose other than these would lead to the deprivation from basic jurisdictional authority and consequently, the impugned Government Order is arbitrary, illegal, and ultra vires to the Aadhaar Act and liable to be scrapped.

The petitioner further contended that Aadhaar based Biometric System violates Article 21 of the Constitution of India, not only infringing the Right to privacy but also the Right to dignity, autonomy and free choice.

Arguments in favour of the Respondent’s:

The respondent contended that, the decision of the Government to implement AEBAS, is to ensure attendance of teaching and non-teaching staff and to lessen the expenditure incurred for maintaining the attendance. Thereby, the said order was made for the purpose of improving the efficiency level in the public administration. Furthermore, the Government of Tamil Nadu being an employer of government servants is empowered to introduce such policies to develop efficiency in public administration. Thus, collecting the individual particulars and identification as far as the Government servants are concerned, cannot be construed as violation of the Fundamental Rights ensured under the Constitution of India.

Also, it was contended by respondent that, as fundamental Rights ensured under Part III of the Constitution, is subject to certain reasonable restrictions and the State can impose certain reasonable restrictions in order to protect the rights of all other citizen. Therefore, the Right to privacy is to be protected but it cannot be extended, so as to curtail the Government from introducing such System in Government Schools, which would provide a better administration as far as the Education Department is concerned. Also, if the teacher is not willing to undergo such system, then he/she has to take a decision, whether to continue in service or to leave the service. The respondent’s other claim was, as teachers have miserably failed in exercising their duties enunciated under Article 51-A, by not imparting best education to the young minds. Hence, the said mechanism would assist in promoting better services in the Government schools.

Judgment:

The Madras High Court had directed to implement AEBAS for teaching and non-teaching staff in all the Government Schools and Government Aided institutions. As, the High Court asserts that, such stringent measures to maintain discipline is highly essential in view of the growing indiscipline brought to the notice in public domain. The court further asserted that the writ petitioner cannot go and say that she has got a Fundamental Right in respect of disclosing her personal identity because they are bound by the Service Rules and the policies introduced by the Government for the improvisation of the Scheme of Education and if she doesn’t accept those rules and policies, she can leave the job.

Overview:

This judgment of the Madras High Court had disregarded the basic fundamental rights, enshrined in the Constitution of India. It leads to the violation of not only the right to privacy, but also the Right to dignity, autonomy and free choice, which is considered to be an intrinsic part of Article 21 of the Constitution of India. As, the restriction imposed by adopting AEBAS was not reasonable in nature. Hence, manifesting arbitrariness, because it violated the ‘doctrine of proportionality’, which is considered to be a quintessential principle, whenever the fundamental rights are being restricted by administration. The court while applying the said doctrine, ascertain if the steps taken by the administration is least means to achieve the object and if not, then the Hon’ble court, by using the abovementioned doctrine, quashed the restriction imposed by the body.

In Instant case, the adoption of AEBAS, which leads to the infringement of teachers’ fundamental rights under Article 21, is the least way to improve the efficiency level in government schools. Firstly, the teacher’s salary in government schools are not linked to their attendance and thereby the said initiative doesn’t motivate them to produce better results and secondly, the attendance in itself, would not lead to improve the work output of teachers because there were other detrimental factors, which lead to the dereliction of duty on part of teachers in the Government schools. For example: – teachers of government schools, not possessing required qualification as mandated under the Right to Education (RTE). Hence, demonstrating, how the attendance of teachers would not resolve the growing indiscipline in government schools. Furthermore, the said judgment lead to the violation of the Right to profession, under Article 19(6) Constitution of India, of the government schools teachers because those, who are unwilling to enrolled themselves under the ‘Aadhaar Act’ have to leave their jobs due to the ‘arbitrary’ mechanism, which was being fortified with the said judgment.

Edited by Sree Ramya

Approved & Published – Sakshi Raje 

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Navya Singh is a 3rd year Law Student [B.Com. L.L.B (Hons.)] from the Institute of Law, Nirma University (ILNU), Ahmedabad, Gujarat. She has taken part in national as well as international moot court competitions and also written research papers on various contemporary issues around the world. She is fascinated by the changes that the judiciary brings to society. Furthermore, she takes a keen interest in researching different socio-legal changes that are yet to be made, with the aim of promoting societal development.