The Supreme Court on Friday clubbed all the petitions challenging the mandatory use of Aadhaar for availing benefits of 17 social schemes, but deferred the hearing till June 27, three days before the Centre’s deadline for providing Aadhaar for receiving government subsidies. Child rights activist Shanta Sinha while challenging the constitutional validity of Aadhaar (Targeted Delivery of Financial and other Subsidies, Benefits and Services) Act, 2016, urged a bench headed by justice AM Khanwilkar to hear the plea before June 30, the Centre’s deadline for providing Aadhaar in order to receive subsidies. She sought an interim stay until the apex court’s final verdict on the constitutionality of Aadhaar is decided.
Attorney General Rohatgi vehemently opposed the matter being heard by the division bench, saying “I have serious objections. Identical prayers were made in another petition six months ago. In that case, a stay was sought. Notice was issued but no interim relief. I am sorry to say that this petition and the earlier petition are identical para by para. I can prove it.” He said that the matter has to be heard by the Constitution Bench. Rohtagi claimed that 115 crore Aadhaar cards have already been issued in a population of 125 crore.
“The idea behind these benefits is that they should not go to a ghost. Ghost in PDS, ghost in mid-day meals, ghost in this and that,” he argued. He added that even if individuals have not been enrolled in the Unique Identity Authority of India (UIDAI) system, benefits will be provided to those who have an enrolment slip and have proof of having requested for enrolment. Senior counsel Shyam Divan objected to the AG’s submissions, contending that the earlier petition was filed before the notifications were passed. He told the court that despite its repeated orders saying Aadhaar is voluntary, the Centre had released several notifications making it mandatory for schemes such as scholarships, Right to Food and mid-day meals in schools.
“The matter needed to be heard urgently,” he said Divan pointed out that there is a deadline of June 30 to enroll for these schemes using Aadhaar and that the matter should be listed before that. Divan also argued that the ‘architecture’ of Aadhaar is that of a ‘surveillance state’. “This is not just about privacy. It allows the State to completely dominate the individual through creating an electronic record,” he said. The court deferred the hearing to June 27, three days before the Centre’s deadline.