THE SUPREME Court on Friday asked the Centre why it had made Aadhaar mandatory for obtaining a Permanent Account Number (PAN) card and for filing Income-Tax returns. Attorney General Mukul Rohatgi told the two-judge bench headed by Justice A K Sikri that the move would help to weed out fake and fraudulent financial accounts. “Today, anybody can get a PAN card with any name on it. A person can get several PAN cards — say, as Mukesh Gupta, then another as Mukesh Kumar Gupta, and a third as M K Gupta, so on and so forth,” he said, adding that fake PAN cards were being used to divert funds to shell companies.
The bench then said: “Is this the remedy, that you need to have Aadhaar for having PAN? Forcibly asking people to get Aadhaar? Why has it been made mandatory?”
Responding, Rohatgi cited a recent order by another bench, headed by Chief Justice of India J S Khehar, whereby the court ratified the government’s plan to make Aadhaar mandatory for procuring a new SIM card. “You (court) yourself had recently ordered that Aadhaar should be made mandatory to procure SIM cards,” he said.
To a query by the bench regarding the “voluntary” nature of Aadhaar, the AG submitted that there was a law in force to deal with the subject, and Section 139A of the I-T Act prescribed statutory requirements. “At first they objected to Aadhaar, saying there was no legislation. Then we brought in legislation, and now they are complaining about this,” he said.
The bench was hearing two PILs, filed separately by former Kerala minister Binoy Viswam and retired Army official S G Vombatkere, challenging the validity of an amendment in the I-T Act which makes Aadhaar compulsory for filing Income Tax returns. The petitioners have complained that while the Aadhaar Act, 2016, has not made Aadhaar mandatory, the I-T Act now makes it compulsory.
The bench said it would hear arguments on the plea challenging the government’s move on April 25, when it may also pass an order on the way forward.
In 2015, a Constitution Bench led by then Chief Justice H L Dattu had allowed the use of Aadhaar cards for MNREGA, Jan Dhan Yojana, pension and provident fund schemes, but clarified that this would only be on voluntary basis, and no person should be deprived of any benefit for want of Aadhaar.