In a huge relief to thousands of students, a Constitution Bench of the Supreme Court on Wednesday stayed a CBSE notification that made Aadhaar or Aadhaar enrolment proof mandatory to register or appear for the National Eligibility cum Entrance Test (NEET) 2018.
The five-judge Bench, led by Chief Justice Dipak Misra, which is hearing a batch of petitions challenging the Aadhaar scheme, questioned the Centre about the issuance of such notifications by government authorities. The Supreme Court had already made it clear in a series of interim orders that Aadhaar would continue to be voluntary till a final decision is taken by the court about its constitutional validity.
The petitioners, who approached the court against the CBSE notification and others who have challenged the Aadhaar scheme, said the government had been issuing several such notifications, which in fact, amounted to contempt of the Supreme Court’s orders.
“We had extended the ambit of our orders [on the voluntary nature of Aadhaar] to even the State governments,” Justice D.Y. Chandrachud on the Constitution Bench reacted.
Senior advocates Arvind Datar and Vibha Makhija, for petitioners, said it was a “great tragedy” that the authorities continue to violate the court’s interim orders. “Thousands of students are suffering, uncertain about their future... the Supreme Court has to send a clear message... something has to be done,” Mr. Datar urged the five-judge Bench.
Attorney General K.K. Venugopal initially tried to reason that the Supreme Court orders on the voluntary nature of Aadhaar preceded the Aadhaar Act of 2016.
However, Mr. Venugopal subsequently changed tack and said the UIDAI had never authorised the CBSE to issue this notification making Aadhaar mandatory for NEET aspirants.
The CBSE made Aadhaar mandatory for NEET students across the country, except in Jammu and Kashmir, Meghalaya and Assam. Students in these three States can show other alternative ID proofs. Mr. Venugopal said the same condition of alternative proofs of identity could now be uniformly applied for NEET aspirants across the country.
Consequently, the Bench recorded the Centre’s submission that students henceforth “need not necessarily” submit Aadhaar as their identity proof to register for NEET 2018, and other documents such as ration card or voter card or passport or driving licence or bank account would suffice.
Covers other exams too
The court extended the ambit of this order to not just NEET 2018 but all other all-India exams scheduled for the near future.
The court ordered the CBSE, the authority which conducts NEET, to upload the apex court order on its website for the information of students.
The plea, filed by a Gujarat resident, Abid Ali Patel, was mentioned in the morning before the Constitution Bench, which decided to urgently hear it post-lunch.