The CJI said the earlier order by five judges was very clear that Aadhaar can’t be made mandatory for social security schemes.
New Delhi: The Supreme Court clarified on Monday that Aadhaar cards can’t be made mandatory by the government for extending social welfare scheme benefits, but also made it clear that the government couldn’t be barred from requiring the use of these cards, issued by UIDAI, for “non-benefit” purposes like filing of income-tax returns and opening of bank accounts.
A three-judge bench of Chief Justice J.S. Khehar and Justices D.Y. Chadnrachud and Sanjay Kishan Kaul spelt this out when senior counsel Shyam Divan, appearing for various petitioners, brought to the court’s notice that new applications had been filed challenging the notifications by various departments making Aadhaar mandatory for the release of grants. The counsel said while the applications were to come up for hearing on April 3, they had been deleted from the list of cases to be heard.
The CJI said the earlier order by five judges was very clear that Aadhaar can’t be made mandatory for social security schemes, but said the government was at liberty to do so for non-public welfare schemes like opening of bank accounts or issuance of driving licences, etc. The CJI said the larger issue on the constitutional validity of the Aadhaar scheme, that involves the citizen’s right to privacy, would be decided by a seven-judge bench, but it would take some time.
The CJI observed: “You (government) can enforce... but you can’t enforce it for extending a benefit. If somebody wants to open an account, you are free to do. That is not a benefit. Similarly, for issuing a license... you can ask him to use it. But it can’t be done in the context of social welfare schemes.”
Mr Divan noted that the Centre was insisting on Aadhaar cards for mid-day meals, opening of bank accounts, etc. He said this amounted to violation of people’s basic right to liberty by restricting their freedom, besides contempt as the Supreme Court had already passed orders that the Aadhaar card can’t be made mandatory.
However, the Chief Justice of India said there was no urgency for hearing the application, since the main issue on the constitutional validity of the scheme involving collection of biometric data, fingerprints and other personal details collected by private agencies had already been referred to a five-judge bench. The CJI indicated on Monday that the matter may now be examined by a seven-judge Constitution Bench instead of a five-judge bench.
“Interim orders from time to time is not the solution. The final disposal of the matter is the solution,” the bench said, adding orders had already been passed that Aadhaar was not mandatory for availing welfare scheme benefits.
Earlier, on October 15, 2015, a five-judge Constitution Bench had permitted the government to extend the use of Aadhaar for extending social benefit schemes like MNREGA, Pradhan Mantri Jan Dhan Yojana, pensions schemes for old age, widows and disability, besides provident fund, but added a rider that it shall not be made mandatory for citizens. “We also make it clear that the Aadhaar card for social schemes is purely voluntary and it cannot be made mandatory, mainly till the matter is pending in this court,” the five-judge bench had said.