Aadhaar cannot be made mandatory for govt welfare schemes: Supreme Court
Here is a computer-rendered sample of an Aadhaar card. Image source Wikimedia via PageImp. Photograph: (Others)
The government cannot require citizens to have an Aadhaar card to benefit from government welfare schemes, the Supreme Court said Monday.
A bench comprising Chief Justice J S Khehar and Justices D Y Chandrachud and S K Kaul, however, said that government and its agencies cannot be stopped from seeking Aadhaar identification cards for non-welfare schemes like opening of bank accounts or tax returns.
This comes as the government announced that the 12-digit card will be required for almost 36 central schemes, including: free mid-day meals for school children, scholarships, various other schemes for backward castes and the differently-abled, as well as subsidies for cooking gas and food grains, NDTV reports.
The bench also said that a seven-judge bench needed to be constituted for authoritatively deciding a batch of petitions challenging the Aadhaar scheme on grounds including that it infringes on the Right to Privacy of citizens. However, it expressed inability in setting up of the seven-judge bench saying it would be decided at a later stage.
Senior advocate Shyam Divan, appearing for one of the petitioners, alleged that the Central government is not following the various orders passed by the apex court that the usage of Aadhaar would be voluntary and not mandatory.
The apex court on August 11, 2015 had said that Aadhaar card will not be mandatory for availing benefits of government's welfare schemes and barred the authorities from sharing personal biometric data collected for enrolment under the scheme.
However, on October 15, 2015 it had lifted its earlier restriction and permitted the voluntary use of Aadhaar cards in welfare schemes that also included MGNREGA, all pension schemes and the provident fund besides ambitious flagship programmes like 'Pradhan Mantri Jan Dhan Yojna' of the NDA government.
A five-judge bench headed by the then Chief Justice HL Dattu had also put a caveat in its interim order for the Centre and said, "We also make it clear 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."
The bench, while including the four other schemes along with LPG and PDS where Aadhaar may be used, had said, "The Union of India to follow all other orders passed by this court since September 23, 2013".
The bench had also said that a larger bench was required to be set up for the final disposal of the petitions that also include the question as to whether the right to privacy is a fundamental right.
Divan, representing one of the petitioners who has challenged the Aadhaar card scheme, had claimed that the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI), which runs the programme, is neither backed by any law nor by any notification and is getting biometric details through private agencies.
The lawyers for the petitioners had contended that the scheme is "all pervasive" and is not full proof either and hence, cannot be used for other programmes.
On October 14, 2015, the apex court took note of Centre's plea that Aadhaar cards be allowed to be used "voluntarily" for welfare programmes other than PDS and LPG schemes and asked whether it can assure that nobody would be at a "disadvantageous" position for want of Aadhaar.
Government snooping into people's lives with Aaadhaar: Opposition
Meanwhile, Congress leader Kapil Sibal alleged the government was trying to "snoop" into the lives of people by making Aadhaar compulsory for filing tax returns.
Congress leader Kapil Sibal alleged the government was trying to "snoop" into the lives of people by making Aadhaar compulsory for filing tax returns.
Sibal said the people in the BJP-led government may have "the experience in snooping" and added that this also showed BJP's "double talk".
Last week Finance Minister Arun Jaitley said that Aadhaar may become the only card used in the future, replacing the PAN card and all other forms of ID, the Economic Times of India reports.
When asked in Parliament if the government was forcing the Aadhaar card on citizens, Jaitley responded, "Yes we are".
(WION with inputs from PTI)