Aadhaar (English: foundation or base) is a 12-digit unique identity number that can be obtained voluntarily by residents of India.
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Aadhaar is the world's largest biometric ID system. World Bank Chief Economist Paul Romer described Aadhaar as "the most sophisticated ID programme in the world". Considered a proof of residence and not a proof of citizenship, Aadhaar does not itself grant any rights to domicile in India. In June 2017, the Home Ministry clarified that Aadhaar is not a valid identification document for Indians travelling to Nepal and Bhutan.
Prior to the enactment of the Act, the UIDAI had functioned, since 28 January 2009, as an attached office of the Planning Commission (now NITI Aayog). On 3 March 2016 a money bill was introduced in the Parliament to give legislative backing to Aadhaar. On 11 March 2016 the Aadhaar (Targeted Delivery of Financial and other Subsidies, benefits and services) Act, 2016, was passed in the Lok Sabha.
Aadhaar is the subject of several rulings by the Supreme Court of India. On 23 September 2013 the Supreme Court issued an interim order saying that "no person should suffer for not getting Aadhaar", adding that the government cannot deny a service to a resident who does not possess Aadhaar, as it is voluntary and not mandatory. The court also limited the scope of the program and reaffirmed the voluntary nature of the identity number in other rulings. On 24 August 2017 the Indian Supreme Court delivered a landmark verdict affirming the right to privacy as a fundamental right, overruling previous judgments on the issue. A five-judge constitutional bench of the Supreme Court heard various cases relating to the validity of Aadhaar on various grounds including privacy, surveillance, and exclusion from welfare benefits. On 9 January 2017 the five-judge Constitution bench of the Supreme Court of India reserved its judgement on the interim relief sought by petitions to extend the deadline making Aadhaar mandatory for everything from bank accounts to mobile services. The final hearing began on 17 January 2018. In September 2018, the top court upheld the validity of the Aadhaar system. In the September 2018 judgment, the Supreme Court nevertheless stipulated that the Aadhaar card is not mandatory for opening bank accounts, getting a mobile number, or being admitted to a school. Some civil liberty groups such as the Citizens Forum for Civil Liberties and the Indian Social Action Forum (INSAF) have also opposed the project over privacy concerns.
Despite the validity of Aadhaar being challenged in the court, the central government has pushed citizens to link their Aadhaar numbers with a host of services, including mobile sim cards, bank accounts, the Employees' Provident Fund Organisation, and a large number of welfare schemes including but not limited to the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act, the Public Distribution System, and old age pensions. Recent reports suggest that HIV patients have been forced to discontinue treatment for fear of identity breach as access to the treatment has become contingent on producing Aadhaar.