‘Aadhaar for salary is a breach of privacy’

Says Ramesh Kurhade who refused details to employer Mumbai Port Trust and fought tooth and nail for a path-breaking judgment

Sharmeen.Hakim@timesgroup.com

When Mumbai Port Trust asked all its 9,500 employees to submit Aadhaar details in 2015, they all fell in line; except 49-year-old charge-man of the technical department, Ramesh Kurhade. Port Trust stopped payment of salary to Kurhade in July 2016. An active member of many employee unions and an ardent follower of trade union leader Dutta Samant, Kurhade single-handedly fought a long battle against this “arbitrary diktat” and won last month. On June 20, the Bombay High Court reportedly ordered Port Trust to pay Kurhade 7.5 per cent interest for the 29 months of non-payment.

Kurhade’s fight pre-dates the historic Aadhaar judgement that upheld the Act, including the mandatory use of Aadhaar-based identification for government welfare schemes, but struck down the mandatory private use of Aadhaar. Kurhade fell under the latter.

As a 12-year-old, Kurhade, the son of a mill worker, remembers following Samant on foot as the latter led the historic year-long textile mill workers strike in 1982.

“He (Samant) believed that if a company earned from its employees, they should be given their due. My fight on his principles is only a small tribute to him and Dr Shanti Patel, who led the Mumbai Port Trust Docks and General Employees Union, which I am a part off.”

But taking on the union couldn’t have been easy for the only bread winner of the family of four. “Yes, I have growing children and my wife is a homemaker but Dr Samant always said if you want to fight, start by stocking up on at least six months of food,” he said.

It took a year from the first notice in 2015 till the time they stopped disbursing Kurhade’s salary in July 2016. “I saved as much as I could during this time,” he said.

Initially, around 30 people refused to give their Aadhaar details. Till the time the third notice was put up, warning employees about a pay cut, only five of them were left, Kurhade recalls.

“But when salaries weren’t disbursed, they gave their details,” said Kurhade. All through 2016-17, Kurhade exchanged a series of letters with Port Trust, resulting in a writ petition in January 2018 through advocate DP Sawant.

“They transferred me. The employees’ union couldn’t support me as everyone had fallen in line. I was against Aadhaar for the same reason its protractors were against it. It is a breach of privacy,” he said.

Kurhade said he knew he wasn’t fighting a losing battle, especially when the judgement came. Last November, through an interim order, the HC ordered BPT to start paying his wages and made that order absolute with interest last month.

“Everyone was against the idea of fighting. They thought I had gone mad. I would tell them, only mad men write history.”

Mumbai Mirror