Noting that the authorities cannot insist on a citizen to produce his Aadhaar card, the Supreme Court on Thursday extended the voluntary use of the card to the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA), all types of pensions schemes, employee provident fund and the Prime Minister Jan Dhan Yojana.
A Constitution Bench led by Chief Justice of India H.L. Dattu said use of the Aadhaar card was purely voluntary and not mandatory. With this, the Supreme Court modified an August 11 order issued by its three-judge Bench restricting Aadhaar use to only PDS and LPG (cooking gas) distribution.
The Bench said the purely voluntary nature of the use of Aadhaar card to access public service will continue till the court takes a final decision on whether the Aadhaar scheme is an invasion on the right to privacy of the citizen.
The interim order came after senior advocates Shyam Divan and Gopal Subramanium said the Aadhaar card scheme was neither backed by law nor administrative decree.
“You have no document of authority, either from Parliament or administrative decision, to collect fingerprints of the citizenry,” Mr. Divan argued.
“Give me 15 minutes. Your Lordships will be aghast and never share your biometrics or opt for Aadhaar,” Mr. Subramanium urged the Bench also comprising Justices M.Y. Iqbal, C.S. Nagappan, Arun Mishra and Amitava Roy.
However, repeated statements separately drawn by the court on Wednesday from the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) and various authorities, including the RBI, SEBI, TRAI, to name some who sought modification of the August 11 order that Aadhaar would be used “purely voluntarily” and not mandatorily won the day.
Chief Justice Dattu had specifically asked Attorney-General Mukul Rohatgi, appearing for UIDAI, to make a statement in open court that “you will not insist till the matter is finally decided here or a legislation is introduced in Parliament”.
“Suppose we decide that Aadhaar is purely voluntary and any attempt to make it mandatory would be treated as contempt of court... are you ready to give an assurance or make a statement here to this effect?” the CJI had asked Mr. Rohatgi, who replied in the affirmative on Wednesday.
“No person will be denied benefits under any government scheme for want of Aadhaar card,” the A-G submitted.