New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Thursday effectively reserved its verdict on petitions challenging the government’s decision to make Aadhaar mandatory for filing income-tax returns (ITRs) as well as for obtaining and retaining the permanent account number (PAN).
A bench comprising justices A.K. Sikri and Ashok Bhushan heard 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, against the decision.
Senior advocate Arvind Datar, appearing for one of the petitioners, cautioned the court against allowing a tax regime that’s contrary to the Aadhaar statute and the orders of the apex court.
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“Fundamental rights are not playthings of the government," he said. Datar also argued that there cannot be a ‘legislative dichotomy’ between the Aadhaar Act and the amendment to the income tax provisions on whether Aadhaar is mandatory or voluntary.
The government and the petitioners agreed to not argue on whether Aadhaar is violative of a citizen’s fundamental right to 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.
As per the Aadhaar (Targeted Delivery of Financial Subsidies, Benefits and Services) Act, 2016, the unique identity number is mandatory only to receive social welfare benefits. But 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. 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.