New Delhi: “Conscientious objectors to Aadhaar are essentially offending the law," a lawyer arguing on behalf the government told the Supreme Court on Wednesday during a hearing of petitions challenging the government’s decision to make the 12-digit ID mandatory for filing income-tax returns (ITRs) as well as for obtaining and retaining PAN (permanent account number).
Advocate Arghya Sengupta, founder of Vidhi Centre for Legal Policy, a New Delhi-based think tank, defended the government’s rule making Aadhaar mandatory for ITRs.
Vidhi assisted the government in framing the Aadhaar (Targeted Delivery of Financial Subsidies, Benefits and Services) Act, 2016.
A Supreme Court bench comprising justices A.K. Sikri and Ashok Bhushan is hearing three petitions filed by Binoy Vishwam, a senior Communist Party of India leader; Bezwada Wilson, a Dalit rights activist; and S.G. Vombatkere, a retired army officer.
According to the provisions of Finance Act 2017, the Aadhaar number or Aadhaar enrolment number will be mandatory to file income-tax returns and to apply for a new PAN. Further, an existing PAN can be declared void if the taxpayer does not link it with Aadhaar within the period that will be notified by the government.
In an earlier hearing, senior advocate Shyam Divan had cited information self-determination, a legal concept developed in a German constitutional court ruling relating to personal information collected during the 1983 census.
Sengupta argued that the petitioners cannot cite the right of information self-determination to make a case against the government’s decision as the right is inherently linked to privacy.
“We cannot import a concept of privacy from places that are culturally vastly different from India," he said.
On Wednesday, Divan countered the government’s contention that Aadhaar may not be entirely voluntary. “In various provisions of the Act, an individual’s consent is required. If consent is asked for then how can the law be mandatory?" Divan asked adding that if obtaining Aadhaar was mandatory, the law itself would prescribe penal provisions for not doing so.
Divan also presented the court with various possible outcomes of the case, including making linking of PAN with Aadhaar voluntary or alternatively, upholding the government’s decision. The court could also refer the issue to a larger constitution bench on privacy.
In August 2015, a three-judge bench referred the issue of whether an Indian citizen enjoys a fundamental right to privacy to a larger constitution bench, which is yet to be constituted.
The hearing is likely to be concluded on 4 May.