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A five-judge constitution bench of Chief Justice Dipak Misra and Justices A K Sikri, A M Khanwilkar, D Y Chandrachud and Ashok Bhushan, which is in the midst of hearing a bunch of petitions challenging the constitutional validity of Aadhaar, indefinitely extended the March 31 deadline it had set through its interim order on December 15 linking services to possession of the unique identity number.
“We direct that the interim order passed on December 15 shall stand extended till the matter is finally heard and the judgment (of the court) is pronounced,” it said and clarified that the indefinite extension of Aadhaar linkage deadline “shall apply, besides the schemes of the ministries/departments of the Union government, to all state governments in similar terms”.
‘Tatkal passport not issued without Aadhaar’
The Centre’s refusal to issue a passport under Tatkal scheme to lawyer-activist Vrinda Grover, intending to travel to Bangladesh for a conference, without her producing Aadhaar was mentioned by senior advocate Arvind Datar, who told the CJI-headed bench that the Centre, in blatant violation of the SC’s interim order, was insisting on Aadhaar even before March 31.
Attorney general K K Venugopal made a feeble attempt to oppose Datar by differentiating between the processes for issuance of passport through ordinary method, where a person remains in queue till police verification is done, and through Tatkal scheme where police verification is done after issuance of passport.
In a previous hearing, the SC had asked the Centre to announce an extension of the deadline well in advance of March 31 so as to avoid creating confusion in the banking and financial system. This was in response to the Centre stating that it was ready to extend the deadline in view of the ongoing arguments in the court.
Datar and senior advocate Shyam Divan said despite the SC’s clear interim order of December 15, the Centre appeared hell bent on making Aadhaar mandatory for everything, including renewal of passports and insurance policies. The AG attempted to brush aside the opposition to Aadhaar linkage by stating that over 1.2 billion people had obtained the unique identification number.
Finding the going tough with the court clearly in favour of not creating an impasse prior to final adjudication of validity of Aadhaar, the AG agreed for extension of the deadline but insisted that Section 7 of Aadhaar Act, 2016, must not be diluted as it provided for mandatory Aadhaar production by a person intending to receive subsidies.
Section 7 of Aadhaar (Targeted Delivery of Financial and Other Subsidies, Benefits and Services) Act, 2016, provides that any government “for the purpose of establishing identity of an individual as a condition for receipt of a subsidy, benefit or service for which the expenditure is incurred from, or the receipt there-from forms part of, the Consolidated Fund of India, require that such individual undergo authentication, or furnish proof of possession of Aadhaar number or in the case of an individual to whom no Aadhaar number has been assigned, such individual makes an application for enrolment: provided that if an Aadhaar number is not assigned to an individual, the individual shall be offered alternate and viable means of identification for delivery of the subsidy, benefit or service”.
The SC said, “We accept the submissions made by the AG. Subject to that, we direct extension of Aadhaar linkage deadline till the matter is finally heard and the judgment pronounced.”
Before this, former finance minister P Chidambaram made an elaborate presentation challenging the validity of the government’s decision to pass Aadhaar Bill, 2016, as a money bill, thus depriving the Rajya Sabha any say in it and hitting at the federal structure of governance mandated by the Constitution. He said the bill’s passage as a money bill was unconstitutional as it also denied the President a choice to withhold assent to it.
Senior advocate K K Vishwanath argued that Aadhaar violated privacy. He will continue his arguments on Wednesday.