A five-judge Constitution Bench of the Supreme Court led by Chief Justice Dipak Misra agreed to the government's suggestion to pass a judicial order extending the deadline for Aadhaar-mobile phone linking from February 6, 2018 to March 31, 2018. The order will be pronounced on December 15 at 10.30 a.m. Attorney-General K.K. Venugopal, for the government, submitted that the deadline for linking of "everything", including bank accounts, with Aadhaar has already been extended from December 31, 2017 to March 31, 2018 . "Deadline for everything, except for mobile phones and new bank accounts, has been extended to March 31, 2018," Mr. Venugopal submitted. In this regard, the government side 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 December 13 evening fixed the extended deadline for Aadhaar-bank linking as March 31. The government had 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.
The Constitution Bench had convened to pass interim directions under the impression that the deadline was still December 31. After a day-long hearing, the Bench said since the deadline has been extended to March, the final hearing on the very validity of Aadhaar scheme, challenged in 24 separate petitions, can be scheduled for January. Subsequently, the court fixed the date as January 17, 2018. Chief Justice Misra indicated that the interim order would address the government's strong reservations about extending the deadline to March 31 for opening new bank accounts also. Mr. Venugopal said that there is already a Know Your Customer procedure for opening a bank account. The introduction of the new customer is done by an existing account holder. "All that is required of a new account holder is to either have an Aadhaar for identity purpose or at least produce it in the next six months. Meanwhile, an Aadhaar enrollment number would suffice," the AG submitted. Senior advocate Rakesh Dwivedi, for RBI, said Aadhaar linkage has been able to weed 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 banking system has functioned without a hitch... why impose Aadhaar now?" Ms. Arora asked the court. "Very easy to say that... there are lakhs of fake bank accounts? How?" Chief Justice Misra asked the petitioners. "There are lakhs of fake Aadhaars also," senior advocate K. Vishwanathan, for a petitioner, replied. He said a person should not compelled to barter his identity to avail facilities due to him as a right. 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 . Senior advocate Arvind Datar pointed out that 2.2 lakh fake accounts is a minscule number compared to 54 crore bank accounts. To this, Chief Justice Misra replied with a homily: "In a town of 20,000, only 200 anti-socials are enough to ruin the place."