Refusing to stay mandatory use of Aadhaar card for availing benefits under various social welfare schemes, the Supreme Court on Friday suggested the parties to seek immediate setting of a Constitution bench to decide all the issues related to the unique identity number. A bench led by justice J Chelameswar asked both the petitioners and the government to mention the matter before the chief justice for constituting a Constitution bench to decide all the issues arising out of Aadhaar. Senior counsel Shyam Divan, appearing for the petitioners, argued that “we seem to be in a totalitarian regime where people are being forcefully tagged and tracked by the government.” He further said that the country was turning into a “concentration camp,” the argument which was vehemently opposed by attorney general K K Venugopal. Raising his objection, he said that Aadhaar has benefited a lot of people. “At least 350 million people were being able to access benefits under various schemes,” he added.
The Centre had on June 27 told the Supreme Court that the government had extended the deadline for enrollment of the unique identity card from June 30 to September 30 for availing benefits under various social welfare schemes including mid-day meals, subsidies for LPG etc and no citizen will be deprived of benefits due to lack of Aadhaar card/number till then.
The court was hearing a batch of petitions challenging various notifications that made Aadhaar mandatory for availing benefits under social benefit schemes. On June 9, the apex court had upheld the validity of a recently inserted Income Tax Act provision, making Aadhaar mandatory to apply for PAN cards and file of tax returns. Even as the court upheld Parliament’s legislative competence to enact the relevant Section 139AA of the I-T Act — which was inserted through the Finance Act, 2017 — it allowed those who do not have the unique ID to file their income tax returns till the larger issue of right to privacy and concerns that the Aadhaar scheme affected the human dignity are decided by a Constitution bench.
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Under the Aadhaar (Targeted Delivery of Financial Subsidies, Benefits and Services) Act, 2016, the unique identity number is also mandatory to receive social welfare benefits.
Earlier, the apex court had passed a slew of orders asking the government and its agencies not to make Aadhaar mandatory for extending benefits of their welfare schemes. However, it had allowed the government to seek Aadhaar card voluntarily from citizens for extending benefits of schemes like LPG subsidy, Jan Dhan scheme and PDS.
In August 2015, a three-judge bench referred the question of whether a citizen enjoys the fundamental right to privacy to a larger Constitution bench, which is yet to be heard.