Can an estranged wife unilaterally seek her husband’s Aadhaar card details through RTI? The Karnataka High Court in its order dated November 24, 2023 set aside an order of a single bench which directed the UIDAI to issue notice of hearing to an Aadhaar card holder (husband of the petitioner).
Parties got married in November 2005 and have a female child. Following a matrimonial dispute between the petitioner wife and her husband, the petitioner instituted maintenance proceedings under Section 125 of Cr.P.C. before the Family Court, Hubballi.
The husband was directed to pay monthly maintenance of Rs 10,000 to the petitioner and Rs 5,000 to their daughter. The wife had difficulties in enforcing the order of the Family Court, since the whereabouts of her husband were not ascertainable as he was allegedly absconding.
Under such circumstances, the petitioner wife filed an application under the Right to Information Act, 2005 (RTI Act) before the Public Information Officer (UIDAI) seeking information, such as details of address of the husband, his mobile number and data form as mentioned in his Aadhaar card.
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Wife’s Application Rejected
The said application was rejected by an endorsement at Annexure-‘C’ dated 25.02.2021, stating that in terms of Section 33 of the Aadhaar (Targeted Delivery of Financial and Other Subsidies, Benefits & Services) Act, 2016, there could be no disclosure of such information and matter has to be decided by a Judge of the High Court, amongst other grounds.
The same was carried up in statutory appeal before the Appellate Authority, which once again confirmed the earlier order. Further, the petitioner filed second appeal, which also came to be rejected.
Aggrieved by the same, the petitioner wife preferred the aforesaid Writ Petition calling in question the correctness of the refusal to furnish information by the Authorities as sought by her in the RTI application. The petitioner had also sought for issuance of a writ of mandamus seeking direction to the third respondent Assistant Director General, Central Public Information Officer (UIDAI) to furnish the details and particulars of Aadhaar Card of the husband.
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Karnataka High Court – Single Bench Judge
A single bench judge allowed the wife’s Writ Petition setting aside the impugned endorsements and remitted the matter to the third respondent – Assistant Director General, Central Public Information Officer (UIDAI) to issue notice to the petitioner’s husband and hear him and thereafter reconsider the application filed by the petitioner/wife seeking furnishing of information as sought by her.
An appeal was filed by the Deputy Director General FAA, Central Public Information Officer, UIDAI challenging the single judge bench order dated February 8, 2023.
Arguments by Wife
The respondent wife argued that the information which was sought by her was regarding her husband and the restrictions placed under RTI Act cannot be made applicable as such restrictions were to be confined to the application for information sought by a third person.
The wife contended that the relationship of husband and wife after marriage results in the merging of the identity of both and accordingly, there could be no objection to divulging the information of the spouse at the instance of another spouse.
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Karnataka High Court – Division Bench
A division bench of Justice S Sunil Dutt Yadav and Justice Vijaykumar A Patil set aside the single judge’s order observing that an order for divulging information under the Aadhaar Act could have only been made by a Judge of the High Court, and not the UIDAI authorities. The bench quoted:
Single Judge has grossly erred…such power of passing an order to divulge the information is conferred on a Court not inferior to that of a Judge of the High Court in terms of Section 33(1) of the Aadhaar Act.
The right to privacy of Aadhaar number holder preserves the autonomy of the individual’s right to privacy which is conferred primacy and admits of no exception under the statutory scheme.
The relationship by marriage which is a union of two partners does not eclipse the right to privacy which is the right of an individual and the autonomy of such individual’s right stands recognized and protected by the procedure of hearing contemplated under Section 33.
Adding further, the High Court remarked:
It is a settled principle that, if the Act provides that a particular act is to be made in a particular manner, it should be done in such manner or not at all. Accordingly, the learned Single Judge could not have remitted the matter to the third respondent-Central Public Information Officer (UIDAI).
Concluding the matter the High Court division bench observed:
The contention of the learned counsel for the appellants that there must be strict adherence of Section 33(1) of the Aadhaar Act is to be accepted.
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Referring to the observations made by the Supreme Court in K.S. Puttaswamy (supra), the High Court emphasised that a person whose information is sought to be divulged, has the right to put forth his case before such disclosure in terms of Section 33(1) of the Aadhaar Act.
The High Court concluded the matter setting aside the order and remitted the matter back for fresh consideration. It quoted:
Accordingly, we remit the matter to the learned Single Judge, wherein the husband of the petitioner is to be arrayed as respondent. An undertaking is made by the petitioner/wife that necessary amendment would be carried out to array the husband as respondent in a writ proceedings.
Husband Can Seek Wife’s Generic Income Details Through RTI | Landmark Order | Voice For Men India
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