The bench will consider whether Aadhaar violates the right of privacy.
The bench, comprising Chief Justice of India J.S. Khehar, and Justices D.Y. Chandrachud, J. Chelameswar, S.A. Bobde and Abdul Nazeer, will examine a plethora of issues arising out of the Centre’s 12-digit biometric identification number.
A total of 22 cases were tagged by the Supreme Court to be heard by the constitution bench. They challenge several aspects of Aadhaar and the use/sharing of data collected under it.
Among these challenges are—making Aadhaar mandatory for social welfare benefits, infringement of right to privacy, making Aadhaar mandatory for filing income tax returns (ITRs) as well as for obtaining and retaining PAN.
For the court to delve into the privacy issue in detail, it will first have to take a call on the strength of the bench and decide whether there is a need to refer the issue to a larger bench.
To make this decision, the Supreme Court will have to consider legal precedents and study the scope of privacy under each of them to decide on the number of judges. The five judges would then either continue to look into the privacy issue or refer the issue back to the chief justice for the constitution of a nine-judge bench.
Should the five-judge bench decide to rule on the case itself and not refer it to a larger bench, it could decide the future of Aadhaar, which has become the backbone of government welfare programmes, the tax administration network and online financial transactions.
On 13 July, the Supreme Court had ruled for the setting of a constitution bench to address the long standing question of whether Indian citizens have the right to privacy, and if Aadhaar breaches the right.
The centre has maintained its stand that right to privacy is not a fundamental right. Then attorney general Mukul Rohatgi told the Supreme Court in 2015 that Indian citizens don’t have a fundamental right to privacy under the Indian Constitution—an argument he repeated subsequently.
The new attorney general K.K. Venugopal has told the court that at least 350 million people were able to access benefits under various government schemes.
On the other hand, Shyam Divan, counsel for one of the petitioners had compared the situation to one under a totalitarian regime where people were being forcefully tagged and tracked by the government.
A look at the list of 22 cases referred to the five-judge constitution bench that is set for its first hearing focussing on privacy issues surrounding Aadhaar.
1. Justice K.S. Puttaswamy vs Union of India (Lead case): Challenge to mandatory Aadhaar use for PDS, LPG, MNREGA, Pension scheme, Jan Dhan Yojna.
2. Aruna Roy, Nikhil Dey vs Union of India: Challenges large-scale exclusion of people from access to basic welfare services under mandatory Aadhaar.
3. Shantha Sinha vs Union of India: Challenges the mandatory use of Aadhaar for the government’s social welfare schemes.
4. S.G. Vombatkere vs Union of India: Challenges mandatory Aadhaar linking for filing income tax returns.
5. Binoy Vishwam, Bezwada Wilson, S.G Vombatkere vs Union of India: Challenges infringement of right to privacy guaranteed under Article 21 (right to life) of the constitution.
6. S.G. Vombatkere vs Union of India: Raises privacy concerns involved in collection of biometric data under Aadhaar.
7. Mathew Thomas vs Union of India: Highlights threat to national security posed by Aadhaar, particularly in relation to data sharing.
8. S. Raju vs Department of Finance: Highlights implications of the scheme on the federal structure of the state.
9. Vickram Crishna vs UIDAI: Highlights invasion of privacy under Aadhaar scheme.
10. Indian Oil Corporation Ltd vs Ashok Kumar Paikaray: Challenges mandatory nature of Aadhaar.
11. Nagrik Chetna Manch vs Union of India: Says Aadhaar detrimental to financial service regulation and financial inclusion.
12. Nagrik Chetna Manch vs Pradeep Kumar Sinha: Challenge linking of Aadhaar for Digital India Program, capital subsidy, ration, school admissions, voter ID, among others.
13. UIDAI vs CBI: Challenges denial of entitlements due to not holding Aadhaar.
14. Mathew Thomas vs Harsh Gupta: Details Not Available
15. Achutanandan vs Reena Ray: Details Not Available
16. Shankar Prasad Dangi vs Bharat Coking Coal: Details Not Available
17. Indian Oil vs All Orissa Consumer Protection Council: Details Not Available
18. Union of India vs Sri V. Viswanadham: Details Not Available
19. Mathew Thomas vs Vivek Rae: Details Not Available
20. Indian Oil vs Rajaji Mathew Thomas: Details Not Available
21. Indian Oil vs Baisil Attipetty: Details Not Available
22. S.G. Vombatkere vs Swadheen Kshatriya: Details Not Available