Aadhaar to face Supreme Court scrutiny, govt says won’t extend deadline

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New Delhi: The stage is set for a judicial scrutiny of the centre’s 12-digit unique identification project, Aadhaar, by the country’s apex court. On Monday, the Supreme Court referred all Aadhaar cases to a five-judge Constitution bench to be formed by the end of November.

The legal basis of Aadhaar, as well as the various other challenges raised against it, will now be reviewed by the apex court. At stake is the fate of several key social sector benefits as well as the delivery of a range of services such as telecom and banking linked to Aadhaar.

To be sure, till such time as the court sets up the constitution bench and passes orders, the government can continue to use Aadhaar for its various programmes.

“What is at stake is the fate of those people who don’t wish to enrol for Aadhaar or those who do not want it to be linked to the schemes and services for which the government is seeking to make it mandatory,” said senior advocate Jayant Bhushan.

He added that once the Constitution bench started hearing the matter, there would be clarity on issues surrounding the mandatory linking of Permanent Account Number (PAN) with Aadhaar where the court had upheld it but exempted those who did not possess the unique identity.

The direction was passed by a bench headed by Chief Justice Dipak Misra after being informed by the centre of its unwillingness to extend the deadline for linking Aadhaar to various schemes to 31 March and requesting a hearing instead.

The court had earlier tagged 22 cases to be heard by a smaller bench. The cases challenge several aspects of Aadhaar including the use of data collected under the unique identification programme.

Two new pleas challenging Aadhaar—one by the West Bengal government on the mandatory linking of Aadhaar to various schemes and another challenging its mandatory linking with mobile numbers—have also been brought to court.

On 25 October, the centre had told the court that it was willing to extend the deadline for linking Aadhaar to various schemes to 31 March next year. It, however, clarified that this would apply only to those who have not yet enrolled for Aadhaar. On Monday, it did a rethink, saying it was unwilling to extend the deadline, and instead sought early hearing of the matter.

In a path-breaking ruling on 24 August, the apex court held that privacy is a fundamental right. In the process, it set the stage for the introduction of a privacy law; the government has appointed an expert group under former Supreme Court judge B.N. Srikrishna to make recommendations.

Earlier in the day, a division bench headed by justice A.K Sikri directed the West Bengal government to modify its plea challenging the mandatory use of Aadhaar for various schemes and issued a notice to the centre on the mandatory linking of Aadhaar to mobile numbers.