Asking what was wrong if Aadhaar card is needed to file tax returns, the Supreme Court on Wednesday said that it cannot preclude Parliament from enacting legislation to tackle tax evasion. “We are not dealing with administrative provisions but statutory ones. We cannot stop the government from passing legislation,” a bench headed by justice AK Sikri said. The court said that using Aadhaar instead of PAN for the purpose of filing tax returns was akin to substituting one system with the other and was an administrative provision aimed at plugging leakages in the filing of tax returns.
These comments from the apex court appear to have lessened the threat from the judiciary to the government’s plan to make Aadhaar mandatory for non-welfare purposes.Last week, the court had wondered how could the government make the unique biometric identity card a must for
Last week, the court had wondered how could the government make the unique biometric identity card a must for filing of tax returns and obtaining PAN. “How can you make Aadhaar card mandatory when we have passed an order to make it optional?” it said.
Parliament passed the Aadhaar Act in March 2016 to give the UID legal backing. A three-member bench headed by Chief Justice JS Khehar on March 28 reiterated that disbursements of assorted government subsidies and doles cannot be strictly Aadhaar-linked, but said that there was no bar on linking of non-welfare schemes to Aadhaar. It also expressed its ability to set up a wider constitutional bench to decide the fundamental question of privacy at this juncture.
On Wednesday, the court wondered why there was no objection from 542 lawmakers on the government’s decision to make Aadhaar mandatory for making PAN cards. “542 persons are sitting in Parliament, why do they not object to it? If they are not objecting on it, why should we go into it,” the apex court said.
Senior counsel Arvind Datar, appearing for one of the petitioners, argued that mandatory quoting of Aadhaar number while filing tax returns will make PAN invalid, if one does not have an Aadhaar card. The senior counsel said that though Aadhaar was initially brought for welfare schemes for the marginalised section of the society, the government under the guise of checking black money and duplication of PAN cards now wanted to use Aadhaar for IT returns.
Opposing Datar’s argument, the government clarified that PAN will not be invalidated retrospectively as the consequence of not linking it with Aadhaar. “It will be invalid from July 1, 2017 and not from when you had applied for a PAN number,” attorney-general Mukul Rohatgi said. Rohatgi said that 99% people have been covered under the Aadhaar scheme and those people who still do not have an Aadhaar card can get rolled and give the enrollment number for the purpose of filing returns.
The AG reiterated that fake PANs and ration cards have flooded the market and jinxed financial transactions and to prevent such frauds the only option is to make Aadhaar card mandatory..
He further said that making Aadhaar mandatory under Section 139AA was a “legislative mandate”and the apex court had made it mandatory for procuring SIM cards to check misuse and protect national security.
The apex court had in September 2013 said that Aadhaar was not necessary for availing essential services and, in August 2015, while asserting this, restricted its use to PDS and LPG schemes. It, however, had said the privacy issue would need to be decided by a constitutional bench. After the SC allowed voluntary use of Aadhaar in welfare schemes like MGNREGS, PM Jan Dhan Yojana, LPG and PDS, the government has considerably strengthened its Aadhaar payment bridge and a third of payments under the direct benefit transfer (DBT) schemes are already disbursed using it.