Apex court says unique ID can't be made mandatory for welfare schemes, adds govt can't deny benefits to citizens for lack of Aadhaar even as centre is moving to make the ID mandatory for a host of schemes
New Delhi: The Supreme Court and the Union government may be readying for a fresh face-off over the use of Aadhaar, the unique identity programme.
This after the Supreme Court said on Monday that the government cannot make Aadhaar mandatory for extending benefits of its welfare schemes to citizens of the country.
And this when the government is moving swiftly to make Aadhaar mandatory for a host of schemes. In fact, finance minister Arun Jaitley, during the course of the debate on the Finance Bill, categorically said the government is proceeding to make Aadhaar mandatory.
Till date, there are over 1.12 billion Aadhaar number holders.
The apex court said the government cannot be stopped from mandating Aadhaar for other non-governmental schemes such as opening of bank accounts.
A bench headed by Chief Justice of India J.S. Khehar, however, observed the government cannot deny benefits to citizens for not producing the Aadhaar unique identity number. “Aadhaar cannot be pressed for social welfare schemes by the government," the court observed orally.
On the matter of hearing pleas that challenge the use of Aadhaar, the court said a seven-member bench is required to hear these petitions and right now it was not possible.
Last week, the government said Aadhaar will be mandatory for filing income tax returns as well as for obtaining and retaining the permanent account number (PAN) that taxpayers need to quote in their returns.
From 1 July, every taxpayer will have to quote Aadhaar while applying for a PAN and when filing tax returns. Existing PAN holders will have to disclose Aadhaar numbers to the government by a date that will be specified later. In case they fail to intimate their Aadhaar number, taxpayers will have the PAN invalidated.
The move of the government was severely criticized on social media.
On 11 August 2015, a three-judge bench headed by justice J. Chelameswar had referred a bunch of pleas to a larger constitution bench relating to Aadhaar. The court had also restricted the use of Aadhaar to the transfer of cooking gas subsidy, the public distribution system, the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA), all types of pension schemes, the employees’ provident fund and the Jan Dhan Yojana.
Subsequently, last year, the government passed the Aadhaar (Targeted Delivery of Financial and Other Subsidies, Benefits and Services) Act and has since made Aadhaar mandatory for over 30 schemes funded from the Consolidated Fund of India.
An Aadhaar number will now be mandatory for ex-gratia payments to Bhopal gas leak victims, the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan, Bonded Labour Rehabilitation Scheme, National Action Plan for Skill Training of Persons with Disabilities and National Health Mission, for instance.
Aadhaar would also be mandatory from 1 July for the over 100 million schoolchildren who are beneficiaries of the mid-day meal scheme; it, however, clarified that if children had not been issued an Aadhaar number, they will continue to draw the benefit.
In a notification issued late Thursday, the department of telecommunications (DoT) directed all mobile phone service providers to reverify existing customers, prepaid and postpaid, using their Aadhaar number and biometric details. Aadhaar-based e-KYC would also be mandatory for customers procuring new SIM cards.
To be sure, earlier this month, the government had once again clarified that while Aadhaar was indeed being made mandatory, it would not lead to deprivation of benefits to those who don’t have an Aadhaar card.
It reiterated that until an Aadhaar number is assigned to an individual, alternative means of identification can be used to receive benefits linked to the card.
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