New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Tuesday took exception to the fact that despite its ruling that governments should not insist on the possession of Aadhaar card for the disbursal of benefits under the social welfare schemes, there were states that were flouting its order.
A bench of Justice J. Chelameswar, Justice S.A.Bobde, and Justice C. Nagappan expressed its concern over states acting in breach of its interim order passed in September 2013 and reiterated in March this year in this regard.
At the outset of the hearing, Justice Chelameswar pointed to the court’s earlier order asking the central and state governments and their agencies not to link the disbursal of benefits under various social welfare schemes with Aadhaar card.
“Notwithstanding the earlier interim order, some of the states are still insisting on Aadhaar card,” he observed, citing certain reports in the newspapers.
At this, Attorney General Mukul Rohatgi said: “As far as we are concerned, we had made it clear not to insist on Aadhaar card for any official work.” He said he would get back to the court after checking with the authorities.
In its September 23, 2013 order, the court said: “No person should suffer for not getting the Aadhaar card inspite of the fact that some authority had issued a circular making it mandatory and when any person applies to get the Aadhaar card voluntarily, it may be checked whether that person is entitled for it under the law and it should not be given to any illegal immigrant.”
The court’s concern over the breach of its interim order came as it commenced hearing on a batch of petitions challenging the validity of the Aadhaar card and describing government insistence on possessing it as being “coercive” and violating the right to privacy.
Meanwhile, the central government on Tuesday told the court that it was difficult to roll back the scheme which was integral to government’s efforts to eradicate poverty as it sought the hearing of challenge to the Aadhaar scheme by a constitution bench of five judges.
Rohatgi told the court that about Rs.5,000 crore have been spent on the unique identification scheme and the social welfare programs and subsidy schemes are linked to Aadhaar card.
Telling the court that about 80 crore people in the country have been covered under the Aadhaar program, he said that any scrapping of the scheme would adversely affect the government efforts to eradicate poverty.
The position found support of the senior counsel K.K.Venugopal – who appearing for Centre for Civil Society – referred to several judgments backing the plea for referring challenge to Aadhaar scheme to the constitution bench.
The court asked Rohatgi to look into the judgments being referred to by Venugopal and address the court on Wednesday morning on the plea to refer the matter to the constitution bench.
The court is hearing a batch of petitions including one by Karnataka High Court’s Justice (Retd.) K.S. Puttaswamy who had moved the court in 2012, contending that the entire Aadhaar scheme was unconstitutional as the biometric data collected under it was an incursion and transgression of individual privacy.