The Supreme Court, in a majority view, dismissed a series of petitions seeking a review of its 2018 judgment upholding the Lok Sabha Speaker’s certification of Aadhaar law as a Money Bill and its subsequent passage in Parliament.
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However, Justice D.Y. Chandrachud dissented with the majority, saying the Aadhaar review petitions should be kept pending.
The Bench sat in review on January 11 in their chambers. The decision, however, was published on Wednesday.
Two questions for review
Two questions had come up for review regarding the five-judge Aadhaar Bench’s judgment in 2018.
One, whether the Speaker’s decision to declare a proposed law as Money Bill was “final” and cannot be challenged in court. The second, whether the Aadhaar (Targeted Delivery of Financial and Other Subsidies, Benefits and Services) Act, 2016 was correctly certified as a ‘Money Bill’ under Article 110(1) of the Constitution.
On the first question, the majority judgment in 2018 said the Speaker’s decision could be challenged in court only under “certain circumstances”. On the second, it concluded that the Aadhaar Act was rightly called a Money Bill. Justice Chandrachud, who was on the Bench, had dissented on the second conclusion in 2018.
Two years later, marking his dissent again on January 11, Justice Chandrachud differed with the four other judges on the Bench led by Justice A.M. Khanwilkar.
This time, he said that another five-judge Bench in a separate case - Rojer Mathew vs South Indian Bank Ltd - in November 2019 had questioned the conclusions arrived at by the Aadhaar Bench and referred the issues to a seven-judge Bench for an authoritative take.
“The larger Bench’s determination would have an undeniable impact on the validity of the reasons expressed in Puttaswamy [Aadhaar case], and on the constitutional issues pertaining to and arising out of the certification by the Speaker of the House of People,” Justice Chandrachud wrote.
He said the Review Bench should hence wait for the seven-judge Bench, which has not yet been constituted, to take a call. The review petitions should be kept pending for the time being.
Dismissing the Aadhaar review even before the seven-judge Bench got a chance to apply its mind and arrive at a verdict would amount to “judicial indiscipline” and have “adverse consequences”, Justice Chandrachud noted in his dissent.
“Whether the Aadhaar Act was a ‘Money Bill’ under Article 110 has been doubted by a Coordinate Bench in Rojer Mathew... The larger Bench has not been constituted, and is yet to make a determination. Dismissing the present batch of review petitions at this stage would place a seal of finality on the issues in the present case, without the Court having the benefit of the larger Bench’s consideration of the very issues which arise before us,” Justice Chandrachud pointed out.
However, the majority on the Review Bench refused to budge.
Dismissing the review pleas, the majority of four judges on the Bench hastened to add that a “change in the law or subsequent decision/judgment of a coordinate or larger Bench by itself cannot be regarded as a ground for review”.
Besides Justices Kahnwilkar and Chandrachud, the other judges on the Bench were Justices Ashok Bhushan, S. Abdul Nazeer and B.R. Gavai.
The review petitions, primarily the one by Rajya Sabha member Jairam Ramesh, had highlighted how the Aadhaar Act was passed as a Money Bill by superseding the Rajya Sabha. He had called it a “fraud on the Constitution”.
The review petition had argued that the Aadhaar Act clearly did not fall within the ambit of Article 110 (1) of the Constitution, which restricted Money Bills to certain specific fields only.