Aadhaar card can't be made mandatory for govt welfare schemes: Supreme Court

In a rather surprising move, the Supreme Court on Monday told the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led government at the Centre that it cannot make the Aadhaar card mandatory to extend the benefits of its welfare schemes. The Supreme Court further added that the government, however, cannot be stopped from using Aadhaar in other schemes like opening of bank accounts.

The apex court also said that a seven-judge bench has to be set up to hear the pleas challenging the Aadhaar but "right now it is not possible."

In January this year, the Supreme Court had refused to expedite the hearing of Aadhaar cases challenging the constitutional validity of the scheme. It, however, observed that data collection by private agencies is not a good idea.

A bench headed by Chief Justice JS Khehar made the remarks after senior advocate Shyam Divan sought urgent hearing of the plea citing privacy concern. "We are not inclined to give immediate hearing as there are limited resources but biometric data collection by private agencies is not a great idea," the bench also comprising Justices NV Ramana and DY Chandrachud said.

Divan, who represented one of the petitioners, said that these matters needs urgent hearing as there is individual's privacy concern as biometric datas are being collected by private agencies.

Representational image. Reuters

Representational image. Reuters

The apex court on 15 October, 2015 had lifted its earlier restrictions and permitted voluntary use of Aadhaar cards in welfare schemes that also included MGNREGA, all pension schemes and provident fund, besides ambitious flagship programmes like 'Pradhan Mantri Jan Dhan Yojna' of the NDA government, PTI had reported.

The social welfare schemes, aimed at reaching the doorsteps of the "poorest of the poor", were in addition to LPG and PDS schemes in which the apex court had allowed the voluntary use of Aadhaar cards. A five-judge constitutional bench had put a caveat in its interim order for the Centre and said that Aadhaar card scheme is purely voluntary and not mandatory till the matter is finally decided by this court, this way or the other way.

It had said that that a larger bench was required to be set up for final disposal of the petitions that also include the question as to whether the right to privacy is fundamental right.

A three-judge bench on 11 August, 2015 had referred a batch of petitions, challenging the Aadhar card scheme, to a larger bench for an authoritative view on the question as to whether the right to privacy is fundamental right or not and had also restricted the use of Aadhaar to PDS and LPG scheme only.

According to another apex court ruling in September 2013, Aadhaar cards cannot be made mandatory to avail of benefits from social security schemes like cooking gas subsidy. In 2014, the court, in an interim order, restrained the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) from transferring anyone’s biometric information with an Aadhaar number to any other agency without the individual’s consent in writing.

The BJP government recently had said that it will be mandatory for citizens to produce the 12-digit Aadhaar number for benefits under nearly three dozen central schemes including free mid-day meals for schoolchildren. Aadhaar was also made compulsory for scholarships and other schemes for backward castes and the disabled.

On 21 march, the government also proposed to make Aadhaar mandatory for filing income tax returns and also applying for a Permanent Account Number (PAN). The proposal was made through an amendment to the Finance Bill 2017 moved by Finance Minister Arun Jaitley in the Lok Sabha. Besides being necessary for filing an income tax return, any application for an income tax PAN will also have to state the applicant's Aadhaar or 12-digit unique ID which is backed by biometrics like fingerprints and iris scans.

UIDAI, established by UPA-II in 2009, issues Aadhaar cards to the citizens. Under the programme, every citizen is to be provided a 12-digit unique identification number for which biometric information is collected.

With inputs from agencies

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Updated Date: Mar 27, 2017 16:45:23 IST

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