Centre on Wednesday told the Supreme Court that it is open to extending the deadline for linking Aadhaar to various programmes for those who do not have the unique identity yet. The deadline may be extended from December 31 this year to March 31, 2018, the court was told. The extension will, however, apply only to those willing to enroll for the scheme, and not for those who already have Aadhaar, Attorney General K K Venugopal told a bench of Chief Justice Dipak Misra and Justices A M Khanwilkar and D Y Chandrachud.
There will be no change in deadline for those already possessing Aadhaar — they will have to “seed/link” it with their SIM cards, bank accounts, PAN card and other schemes “where section 7 notifications have been issued”, according to a note drawn up by Venugopal. Section 7 of Aadhaar Act empowers the central and state governments to require an individual to furnish proof of Aadhaar to avail its schemes.
Raising objection, the petitioners said that there are many who have the unique ID but do not want to link it with bank accounts, phone numbers, etc. The bench then asked the A-G whether the court can be assured that no coercive action will be taken against such people at least until March 31, 2018. Venugopal said he will take instructions from the government on this and get back by October 30.
Senior counsel Shyam Divan, who appeared for the petitioners, said the petition had been pending since 2014 and must be given urgent hearing. “Please hear it in November. The Attorney-General had agreed to be ready for hearing in November,” Divan pleaded. Venugopal told the court that the Justice B Srikrishna panel, constituted by the Centre to draw up a data protection policy, is reviewing the entire issue of data protection. At a meeting on October 16, the committee had asked its various working groups “to provide specific comments/amendments on clauses of the draft Data Protection Bill”, Venugopal said.
The A-G said the government is hopeful of having a final version of the law by February 2018. Justice Chandrachud agreed that time is needed to make a data protection law. “It is not easy. Countries around the world are struggling to make data protection laws,” he said. Senior counsel Arvind Datar said the seeding exercise violates privacy rights. The court asked the A-G to mention the matter before it on October 30.