The Supreme Court on Monday decided to constitute a five-judge Constitution Bench to hear petitions from November against the validity of the Aadhaar scheme.
A Bench led by Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra took the step after Attorney General K.K. Venugopal said falsehoods had been spread about Aadhaar linking.
In an urgent mentioning made before Chief Justice Misra’s Bench in the post-lunch session after Justice Sikri’s Bench issued notice on Aadhaar-mobile linking, Mr. Venugopal said a Constitution Bench may be set up to decide, once and for all, the various Aadhaar challenges pending before the court since 2014 instead of passing any interim orders. The government however did not mention anything about its proposal last week to extend the date for the mandatory linking of Aadhaar with mobile phones, bank accounts and various welfare schemes from December 31, 2017 to March 31, 2018.
Mr. Venugopal had last week conveyed to the court the decision of the government to extend the time during an urgent mentioning in the Supreme Court by petitioners who have challenged both the validity of the Aadhaar scheme and the law passed subsequently in 2016.
The Supreme Court, on 13th March, Tuesday, extended the deadline to link Aadhaar with various government services, bank accounts, Permanent Account Numbers for filing tax returns and even mobile phone connections indefinitely until after it delivers a final verdict on petitions questioning the validity of the unique identification number.
Extension of the deadline offers relief to consumers bombarded by messages from service providers including banks and mobile phone companies asking them to link their accounts to Aadhaar before the deadline.
A five-judge bench led by Chief Justice Dipak Misra said the extension will not apply to government services and benefits like pensions and scholarships, subsidised foodgrains under the Public Distribution System, subsidised cooking gas and the flagship job guarantee plan for rural households.
Such benefits are covered by Section 7 of the Aadhaar Act, which deals with the delivery of financial benefits and subsidies and services under government welfare programmes.
Those drawing such benefits will be required to provide the biometric ID details and number assigned to them by the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI).
The court restrained the authorities from insisting on Aadhaar for issuance of tatkal passports, which are processed faster.
The exemption was made after senior advocate Arvind Datar complained that the government had amended passport rules in breach of the court directive not to make Aadhaar mandatory. He showed the court his colleague Vrinda Grover’s passport, which was cancelled because she refused to part with her Aadhaar details.
In December last year, the top court extended until March 31, the December 31, 2017 deadline for mandatorily linking various services with their Aadhaar number, which has become the bedrock of government welfare programmes, the tax administration network and online financial transactions.
The bench is currently hearing petitioners who have questioned the validity of Aadhaar and subsequent rules making the number mandatory for such services. The government will respond after the petitioners present their case.
On March 7, the bench indicated the possibility of extending the deadline. It had expressed displeasure over banks, mobile phone companies and financial institutions continuing to coerce people to link their Aadhaar number for uninterrupted services. A delay in extending the deadline would have implications on financial institutions, banks and stock exchanges.
SC on March 7 stopped the Central Bureau of Secondary Education (CBSE) from making Aadhaar compulsory for students writing the National Eligibility and Entrance Test for admission to medical and dental colleges.