The Supreme Court on Wednesday questioned the government’s justification to pass the Aadhaar Act as a money Bill in 2016. The five-judge Constitution bench led by chief justice Dipak Misra posed the question after attorney general KK Venugopal defended passing of the Aadhaar law as a money Bill in Parliament. The AG said the Aadhaar Act was in pith and substance a money Bill, as the Act provided for targeted delivery of subsidies, benefits and services, the expenditure for which was incurred from the Consolidated Fund of India.
He said there were 300 million people below the poverty line (BPL) in India and they were extended benefits of various government schemes. But due to corruption much of it was going to middlemen. “Something had to be done to check this pilferage, stealing, corruption,” Venugopal said, adding that was why Section 7 of Aadhaar Act makes it mandatory to provide proof of Aadhaar number as a necessary requirement for receipt of certain subsidies, benefits and services.
Venugopal said preventing terrorism, detecting black money and money laundering…in all these issues, there was legitimate state interest. Countering the government’s argument, justice DY Chandrachud, while asking Venugopal to clarify the legal position, said: “The area of concern is Section 57 (which authorises use of Aadhaar number by non-State entities).”
This provisions contemplate the use of the Aadhaar card as an identification document not only by the government but also by “any body corporate or person”. “So long there was a nexus with the Consolidated Fund of India, it was fine, but allowing corporate bodies to use Aadhaar went far beyond the mandate of the Aadhaar Act,” said justice Chandrachud.
Venugopal said the Act may have several “ancillary provisions”, but taken in its entirety, the Aadhaar Act came within the ambit of the definition of a money Bill under Article 110 of the Constitution.
The government was countering arguments raised in a petition by Rajya Sabha member and Congress leader Jairam Ramesh who had claimed that the Aadhaar (targeted delivery of financial and other subsidies, benefits and services) Act was “unconstitutional” as it was incorrectly introduced as a money Bill to “bypass the scrutiny of the Rajya Sabha”.
The bench is also hearing around 30 petitions challenging several aspects of the Aadhaar scheme, including the validity of Aadhaar and possible leakage of data, making Aadhaar mandatory for social welfare benefits, filing income tax returns (ITRs) as well as for obtaining and retaining PAN, the mandatory parting of biometric details such as iris scans and fingerprints, thus alleging violation of the citizens’ right to privacy.