The Madras High Court on Wednesday dismissed a public interest litigation (PIL) petition challenging a government order issued by the Energy Department on October 6 permitting Tamil Nadu generation and distribution corporation (Tangedco) to use Aadhaar authentication services.
Acting Chief Justice T. Raja and Justice D. Bharatha Chakravarthy rejected the case filed by advocate M.L. Ravi of Desiya Makkal Sakthi Katchi after they did not find any merits in his apprehension that many domestic power consumers might be deprived of the subsidies due to seeding of Aadhaar.
The judges agreed with Advocate General R. Shunmugasundaram, representing the State government, and Senior Counsel P.S. Raman for Tangedco that the government order under challenge did not speak anything about subsidy and, therefore, the eligible consumers would continue to get it.
Though the petitioner had contended that tenants residing in multiple dwelling units in a same building might lose subsidies if the building was owned by a single person, the court recorded A-G’s submission that the subsidy was provided on the basis of individual domestic consumer connection.
“Thus, when the Aadhaar authentication is required from such persons who want to avail of the benefits under the schemes and such schemes being social welfare schemes to be paid out of the Consolidated Fund of the State, there is no illegality whatsoever in the government order,” the Bench wrote.
Authoring the order, Justice Chakravarthy pointed out that the order itself provided a solution to consumers who do not possess Aadhaar numbers. They could enroll themselves for Aadhaar and provide the acknowledgement for having done so to continue receiving the subsidies.
The judges pointed out that Section 7 of the Aadhaar (Targeted Delivery of Financial and Other Subsidies, Benefits and Services) Act of 2016 empowered the Centre and State governments to demand Aadhaar number for providing subsidies, benefits or other welfare services.
Further, while dealing with the validity of the Act, the Supreme Court in Justice K.S. Puttaswamy versus Union of India (2018), made it clear that the governments could insist upon Aadhaar authentication for providing subsidies and so on by drawing money from the consolidated fund of India or of the concerned State.
In the case of Tangedco, it provides free electricity to hut-dwellers, and for agricultural purposes. For domestic consumers, first 100 units are free across all slabs in their bi-monthly bills. It also grants reduction in tariff between 100 and 200 units for those consuming up to 500 units bi-monthly.
The corporation also provides reduction in tariff up to 120 units bi-monthly for places of worship that use low-tension power. Similarly, handloom consumers were given free power for first 200 units bi-monthly, and were charged as per the corresponding domestic slab for consumption beyond 200 units.
“As such, these schemes clearly qualify the above parameters under Section 7 of the Aadhaar Act and the dictum of the honourable Supreme Court of India in Justice K.S. Puttaswamy’s case,” the Bench concluded while upholding the validity of the government order under challenge.