New Delhi: Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government are pulling out all the stops to ensure that the Aadhaar number doesn’t lose relevance in the face of a legal challenge to its use.

On Wednesday, soon after his return from the US, Modi called a meeting of state secretaries as well as other stakeholders in the Aadhaar unique identity number programme and asked them to push ahead with their enrolment initiative. The Prime Minister asked the states to complete the enrolment by December; he will personally review the progress every month. Thus far, 920 million people have been enrolled in the project.

A government official familiar with the matter said the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai), Insurance Regulatory and Development Authority, Pension Fund Regulatory and Development Authority and the state governments of Maharasthtra, Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh will also seek a review from the Supreme Court of its 11 August interim order restricting the use of Aadhaar to paying subsidies for the public distribution system and cooking gas.

That follows Tuesday’s united defence of Aadhaar in the Supreme Court by the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI), Securities and Exchange Board of India (Sebi), Reserve Bank of India (RBI) and the state of Gujarat—all, again, sought a review of the order, which has jeopardized the government’s Digital India plan as well as the country’s move to a cashless economy.

In total, there will be 11 such review petitions, the official added, speaking on condition of anonymity.

On Tuesday, the bench adjourned the hearing to 6 October and is likely to decide whether the case can now be heard by the same three-judge bench or if it should be heard by a larger constitution bench to which the case has been referred. Supreme Court chief justice H.L. Dattu is yet to notify the constitution of a larger bench to hear the matter. The 11 August interim order did not ask the government to stop the process of enrolment.

Rarely have so many regulators and state governments approached the Supreme Court for such a review.

A second person familiar with the developments who spoke on condition of anonymity said that apart from highlighting the utility of Aadhaar, this is also a move to clearly delineate the powers of the executive from those of the judiciary. Indeed, over the past decade, courts have repeatedly stepped into the realm of policy-making—something that the Modi government hopes to stop.

Interestingly, while addressing the Indian community at SAP Centre in San Jose, California, on Monday, Modi emphasized the utility of Aadhaar in saving subsidies given for liquefied petroleum gas cylinders. He had said that India is moving ahead with “JAM of all", short for Jan Dhan (a scheme to give people no-frills bank accounts), Aadhaar and mobile governance. He also said that giving a unique number to each citizen will help eliminate duplication in providing government benefits.

Under the Aadhaar-based direct benefit transfer (DBT) for LPG, or Pahal Scheme, so far 142.5 million beneficiaries have received 25,795.93 crore in their bank accounts since the scheme was relaunched in November 2014. The government expects to save 15,000 crore in leakages in LPG subsidy every year.

Also, as reported by Mint on 25 September, the government expects to save 40% of the subsidy through DBT in foodgrains, which will be an annual saving of around 50,000 crore (mintne.ws/1KC83qG).

A Trai official who did not want to be identified confirmed that the telecom regulator was moving an application before the Supreme Court on the subject. The regulator wants a clarification on whether telecom subscribers can use Aadhaar as identity proof. As of July 2015, the total mobile subscriber base of the country was 983.21 million.

The first government official said that states have been directed to set up camps in schools and maternal and child welfare centres, especially in rural areas, to enrol children in the Aadhaar programme.

“Out of the 350 million or so people who do not have Aadhaar, around 250 million are people below the age of 18 years. This population does not have proper government identity and the enrolment drive will focus on this. The Prime Minister believes that Aadhaar is a transformational tool and an enabler," the official said.

Of the 920 million Aadhaar enrolments, 240 million have been done after the current National Democratic Alliance government came in to power in May 2014, said the first government official quoted above.

As of now, Aadhaar number has been seeded for various government schemes such as Jeevan Pramaan, DigiLocker, scholarships, Jan Suraksha Schemes, passports and voter’s identity cards, among others.

The Supreme Court’s 11 August order came in response to several petitions that questioned whether the mandatory use of Aadhaar for various government welfare schemes discriminates against those who don’t have the number, and concerns related to privacy and abuse of the Aadhaar database.

Although the Supreme Court didn’t stop the process of enrolment under Aadhaar, a petitioner in the case who did not want to be identified said the enrolment cannot be forced or mandatory. “We have collected instances of the court’s order being violated and we will submit it to the court in the next hearing," the petitioner said.

The idea of Aadhaar numbers, issued by UIDAI, was hatched during the rule of the United Progressive Alliance government. The project currently doesn’t have legislative backing.

Apurva Vishwanath contributed to this story.

Close