No Supreme Court stay on mandatory Aadhaar linking for now

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New Delhi: The Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) on Thursday clarified that notifications making Aadhaar mandatory for availing various welfare programmes as well as linking it with bank accounts, permanent account number (PAN) and mobile phone SIM cards remain valid.

This means that consumers will have to adhere to the various deadlines for Aadhaar linking.

However, these plans could get derailed if the Supreme Court decides to grant an interim stay on mandatory linking of Aadhaar. On Thursday, the Supreme Court proposed a five-judge Constitution bench to be set up by next week to hear pleas seeking an interim stay on the mandatory linking of Aadhaar to avail the benefits of various services and welfare schemes.

“There is no stay from the Supreme Court as on December 7, 2017 on Aadhaar and its linking to various services,” stated the press release.

While the deadline for linking Aadhaar with bank accounts and PAN is 31 December, it is 6 February for mobile phone SIM cards.

On Thursday, appearing for the centre, attorney general K.K. Venugopal informed the court that the government was willing to, with the exception of SIM cards, extend the deadline to 31 March for mandatory linking of Aadhaar.

The matter was mentioned on Thursday morning before a bench comprising Chief Justice Dipak Misra and justices A.M. Khanwilkar and D.Y. Chandrachud. On an earlier occasion as well, the centre had informed the court that the deadline for linking Aadhaar for those who have not enrolled for it is 31 March 2018. They will continue to enjoy the benefits of social welfare schemes till then.

Rahul Matthan, partner at Trilegal, welcomed the centre’s proposal to extend the deadlines for mandatory linking. “It would take at least two months to come up with a draft bill on data protection. Supreme Court would also take time to dispose of the petitions against Aadhaar. The Constitution bench would only decide on the question of interim stay on mandatory linking. Extension of deadlines for mandatory linking is practical and would provide some clarity,” he said.

Earlier this year, the question of right to privacy was heard by a nine-judge bench of the apex court. The bench unanimously pronounced that right to privacy is a fundamental right under Article 21 of the Constitution. The judgement would have an important bearing on the Aadhaar hearing as one of the grounds of challenge is that the use of biometric information of an individual encroaches upon the privacy of an individual.

The court is hearing petitions challenging the mandatory linking of Aadhaar to avail various social and welfare benefits such as Pradhan Mantri Ujjwala Yojana, widow pension schemes, direct benefit transfer, National Eligibility Test-Junior Research Fellowship, PG scholarship for professional courses for SC or ST candidates and maternity benefit programmes. Aadhaar has also been mandated for opening of bank accounts, transferring the provident fund corpus directly to a savings account and filing of income-tax returns.

The court had earlier directed the setting up of a Constitution bench to hear all the petitions related to Aadhaar linking in November.

The government had constituted a 10-member committee of experts, headed by former Supreme Court justice B.N. Srikrishna, to study various issues relating to data protection and make specific suggestions on the principles to be considered for data protection as well as suggest a draft data protection bill. The committee released a white paper on the data protection framework last month seeking public comments.

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