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NEW DELHI: Finding a five-judge Constitution bench receptive to its narrative that lack of infrastructure for authentication of Aadhaar could deprive the poor of their rations and widows of pension, petitioners led by senior advocate Kapil Sibal upped the ante in the Supreme Court for an interim order staying the Centre’s decision to make the unique identity mandatory.
Justices A K Sikri and DY Chandrachud on Thursday prima facie found merit in Sibal’s argument that lack of 24×7 electricity and internet facilities as well as machines in remote areas could lead to non-authentication of Aadhaar and denial of foodgrains and subsidies to the poor as well as pension to widows and senior citizens.
Justice Chandrachud asked, “In this state of affairs, where infrastructure for authentication of Aadhaar has not been provided everywhere, is it not required of the state to ensure that no one is denied her/his entitlement for want of Aadhaar authentication?”
Justice Sikri joined him and said, “Many persons below poverty line might not be knowing that in case of authentication failure, he can still get his entitlement by giving reference to his Aadhaar number. The government should take care of this.”
In the absence of attorney general K K Venugopal, additional solicitor general Tushar Mehta and senior advocate Rakesh Dwivedi took the bench through the Aadhaar Act to show that no one could be denied benefits under government welfare schemes for want of authentication as they could get their entitlement by merely producing the Aadhaar number.
Sibal pointed out that the ground situation was that widows were denied pension and several people had died of starvation after being denied foodgrains for want of Aadhaar. Venugopal rushed into the court and joined Mehta and Dwivedi to counter Sibal, who had by now sensed an opportunity and pushed for an interim order, which the SC had refused twice last year.
C JI Dipak Misra doused the excitement and clarified, “We are in the midst of a marathon argument on petitions challenging the constitutional validity of Aadhaar. We will deal with the issue keeping in mind the petitioners’ argument on exclusion of persons from socially beneficial sche- mes run by governments. We can’t get into an interim order at this stage. We have not yet taken into account what statistics and explanations the government presents on this issue. We will hear the arguments from both sides and pass appropriate orders.”
Prior to enactment of Aadhaar Act, 2016, Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) functioned under the Planning Commission, now Niti Aayog. When Sibal said “all these started in 2009” (when UPA government was in power and of which Sibal was a part), Justice Sikri in said in a lighter vein, “Then only (Shyam) Divan can complain against Aadhaar, not you (Sibal).” Arguments will continue on Tuesday.