The Supreme Court on Tuesday ruled that an Aadhaar card is not mandatory for availing government welfare schemes but said it could be used for disbursal of subsidies on public distribution, cooking fuel/LPG or for criminal investigation on a court’s direction, reports fe Bureau in New Delhi.
A bench headed by justice J Chelameswar, however, barred the authorities from making the production of an Aadhaar card for obtaining other benefits such as receiving pension or opening of bank accounts. The sc also restrained the Unique Identification Authority of India from sharing personal biometric details of cardholders with anyone except for criminal investigation, and that too only on a judicial order.
“The Unique Identification Number or the Aadhaar card will not be used by the respondents for any purpose other than the PDS Scheme and in particular for the purpose of distribution of foodgrains, etc. and cooking fuel, such as kerosene. The Aadhaar card may also be used for the purpose of the LPG Distribution Scheme,” the court said, asking the government to give wide publicity in the electronic and print media including radio and television networks that it is not mandatory for a citizen to obtain an Aadhaar card.
“The production of an Aadhaar card will not be condition for obtaining any benefits otherwise due to a citizen and the information about an individual obtained by the Unique Identification Authority of India while issuing an Aadhaar card shall not be used for any other purpose, save as above, except as may be directed by a court for the purpose of criminal investigation,” the apex court said in its interim order. The judges, however, declined to stop the ongoing Aadhaar enrolment process as demanded by petitioners.
The Narendra Modi government had told the court that it can’t scrap the scheme as it had already spent Rs 5,000 crore on the project. Attorney general Mukul Rohatgi had submitted the Aadhaar card had ensured effective implementation of several social benefit schemes such as the rural employment scheme under MGNREGA, distribution of foodgrains and LPG cylinders. He said Aadhaar cards had already been issued to about 90% of the population.
In the 2013 order, the apex court had directed that “no person should suffer for not getting the Aadhaar card, in spite of the fact that some authority had issued a circular making it mandatory”.
Earlier in the day, the bench referred to a larger Constitution bench decision on whether the right to privacy was a fundamental right. “Having regard to importance of the matter, it is desirable that the matter be heard at the earliest,” the bench said, asking the chief justice to constitute the bench.
Last week, the Centre had told the apex court that privacy was not a fundamental right while contesting a bunch of petitions challenging the constitutional validity of the Aadhaar scheme on the ground of violation of citizens’ right to privacy.
The question over Aadhaar’s validity would be determined thereafter because the petitioners in the case have claimed collection of biometric details for issuing the 12-digit individual identification number – to serve as a proof of identity and address, anywhere in India – infringed on an individual’s privacy. Countering the claim, the government said the SC had delivered conflicting judgments on the right to privacy and an authoritative pronouncement was required.