Supreme Court orders extension of Aadhaar-linking deadline to March 31

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Supreme Court orders extension of Aadhaar-linking deadline to March 31

Bench scheduled the final hearing on 28 separate writ petitions challenging the very validity of the Aadhaar scheme for January 17, 2018.

An Aadhaar holder opening a new bank account will have to furnish his Aadhaar card to the bank, a five-judge Constitution Bench of the Supreme Court, led by Chief Justice Dipak Misra, ordered on Friday.

The Bench extended the deadline for Aadhaar linkage to March 31, 2018 only for non-Aadhaar holders opening new bank accounts. They have time till March 31 to enroll for Aadhaar and produce it before the bank authorities. During the interim, they can furnish their Aadhaar enrollment application to the bank.

“Those who already have Aadhaar cannot go on [open a new bank account] without Aadhaar. If they have Aadhaar, they will have to furnish it to the bank,” Chief Justice Misra clarified to senior advocate C.A. Sundaram, appearing for the UIDAI (Unique Identification Authority of India).

“You see, there is no question of producing Aadhaar enrollment application for those who already possess Aadhaar cards,” Justice D.Y. Chandrachud, who authored the interim order for the five-judge Bench, reasoned.

The Bench scheduled the final hearing on 28 separate writ petitions challenging the very validity of the Aadhaar scheme for January 17, 2018.

‘Issue of validity is of considerable importance’

Reading out the order for the Bench, Justice Chandrachud said the issue of Aadhaar’s validity is of “considerable importance” and requires resolution and clarity at the earliest for the benefit of both the citizenry and the government.

Justice Chandrachud pointed out the fact that a nine-judge Constitution Bench on August 24, 2017 recognised and upheld privacy as a fundamental right and intertwined it with basic human dignity and right to life.

This verdict had made it all the more important that the quesion whether Aadhaar was constitutional or not should be resolved by the five-judge Bench at the earliest, he said.

‘Stark violation of fundamental right to privacy’

The petitioners challenging Aadhaar argue that the scheme, which requires the parting of biometric and personal details, is a coercive step and a stark violation of the ordinary citizen’s fundamental right to privacy. The danger to privacy, they reason, is all the more great because India does not have a data protection regime to prevent or punish personal data leakage.

Mobile phone-Aadhaar linkage

The Constitution Bench extended the deadline for mobile phone-Aadhaar linkage from February 6, 2018 to March 31, 2018. Aadhaar was a mandatory requirement for e-KYC procedure in mobile phone connections, existing and new.

The order also extended the deadline for Aadhaar linking to avail 139 services and subsidies under Section 7 of the Aadhaar Act to March 31, 2018. The court directed that the extension of the deadline should be communicated to the State governments so that people at the ground level are not denied basic welfare and subsidies for want of an Aadhaar card.

Various government agencies and ministries had issued 139 circulars over the past months, mandating Aadhaar for availing or accessing welfare benefits, subsidies, services for which the funds were sourced from the Consolidated Fund of India.

As an interim measure, the Bench said the position held by the Binoy Vishwam judgment on the validity of Section 139AA continues.

A two-judge Bench of Justices A.K. Sikri and Ashok Bhushan, both part of the present Constitution Bench along with Justice A.M. Khanwilkar, had concluded that Section 139AA of the Income Tax Act was not violative of the fundamental right to equality enshrined in Article 14 of the Constitution.

The Section had mandated the linking of Aadhaar for filing of income tax returns.

However, the two-judge Bench had left open the question whether the provision was violative of right to privacy and dignity of the individual to the Constitution Bench for final decision.

On November 14, Attorney General K.K. Venugopal submitted that the deadline for linking of “everything”, including bank accounts, with Aadhaar had been extended from December 31, 2017 to March 31, 2018.

Finance Ministry notification

In this regard, the government side had referred to a notification issued by the Ministry of Finance, which had amended the proviso to Rule 9 (17) (a) of the Prevention of Money Laundering (Maintenance of Records) Rules of 2005 to remove the December 31 deadline. The notification also had substituted Rule 9 (17) (c), which said bank accounts would cease to operate if they were not linked with Aadhaar by December 31.

A later press release issued by the Ministry on November 13 evening fixed the extended deadline for Aadhaar-bank linking as March 31.

The government last week informed the court its willingness to extend the last date for linking of welfare subsidies and services under Section 7 of the Aadhaar Act of 2016 to March 31.

Justifying Aadhaar linkage with bank accounts, senior advocate Rakesh Dwivedi, for the RBI, had submitted that Aadhaar linkage was instrumental in weeding out 2.2 lakh fake bank accounts out of a total 54 crore.

Senior advocate Meenakshi Arora, for the petitioners retorted that “the whole nation cannot be held suspect to money laundering activities”.

“For 70 years, the banking system has functioned without a hitch… why impose Aadhaar now?” Ms. Arora had said.

Senior advocate Sanjay Hegde said imposing Aadhaar in bank accounts would do “irretrievable injustice” to a person’s right to conscientiously hold out against linkage for the sake of his fundamental right to privacy.

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