Government of India: Citizens Don’t Have Absolute Right Over 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."

Government of India Citizens Dont Have Absolute Right Over Their Bodies
© Mansi Thapliyal | Reuters

Centre told the Supreme Court that citizens could not claim “absolute” right over their body parts and refuse to give digital samples of their fingerprints and iris for Aadhaar enrolment.

“The concept of absolute right over one’s body was a myth and there were various laws which put restrictions on such a right,” attorney general Mukul Rohatgi told a bench of Justices A K Sikri and Ashok Bhushan.

His assertion came in response to a clutch of petitions challenging the constitutional validity of Section 139AA of the Income Tax Act which provides for mandatory mention of Aadhaar while filing income tax returns and applying for PAN number from July 1 this year.

The Centre also said after the passage of the Aadhaar Act, it has become mandatory for citizens to get the unique identity number.

Rohatgi contended that the right over one’s body was not absolute as the law prohibited people from committing suicide and women were barred from terminating their pregnancy at an advanced stage.

Had there been absolute right then people would have been free to do whatever they wanted to do with their body, but the law did not recognise the absolute right of people over their bodies, he contended.

“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,” he said.

He said people were also required to allow police to measure their breath for alcohol content in drunken driving cases.

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The court, however, told the attorney general that the examples given by him were not appropriate as the case pertains to taxation law and not with offence. It also said that a balance had to be maintained between an individual’s right and the state’s actions.

He said that no consent was required to get samples of blood and fingerprints of an accused in a criminal case and there was nothing wrong if Aadhaar was used as a preventive measure to curb tax evasion and black money by linking it to PAN card.

The hearing also saw the AG emphasizing that the just-passed Aadhaar Act has changed the nature of the unique identity scheme from voluntary to mandatory.

The government had so far maintained that Aadhaar was not compulsory in nature and it was voluntary for residents to get a unique identity number to get benefits of various social welfare schemes linked with Aadhaar. Rohatgi told the apex court that Sections 7 and 54 of the Aadhaar Act made it mandatory for people to get enrolled.

Rohatgi said linking PAN with Aadhaar was needed to curb the practice of tax evasion and to keep tabs on the circulation of black money as PAN was not a foolproof deterrent. He refuted the allegation that people would be under the government’s surveillance if Aadhaar was made mandatory.

“It is not meant to track anyone. The purpose is not to create Uncle Sam who will keep snooping. It is meant to make India a tax-compliant society and ensure that the benefits of welfare schemes reach the poor,” he said.

He said Aadhaar is the most sophisticated identification programme and it is foolproof. He said people could not claim to have the right to be forgotten by refusing to get an identification proof like Aadhaar.

See also | Why ‘More Than a Million Traders’ Are Boycotting Coca-Cola and Pepsi in India

“Even if you want to be forgotten, the state is not willing to forget you,” he said.

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