In a setback to the government’s ambitious plan to link Aadhaar cards with the Digital India initiative and services such as banking and telecom, the Supreme Court Wednesday refused to modify an order, which restricted its use to public distribution system and LPG subsidy.
A bench led by Justice J Chelameswar declined to make its August 11 order less stringent till a Constitution Bench considers the legal issue relating to the right to privacy, involved in collection of biometric data for Aadhaar cards.
The bench said a batch of requests made by the Centre, the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDIA), the Reserve Bank of India and various government regulators for securities, insurance, telecom and pension should be placed before the Constitution Bench, as and when it is set up.
It noted that since this bench had on August 11 referred the matter for adjudication by a Constitution Bench while issuing necessary interim orders, it would not be appropriate to issue further directives in this matter.
“We are of the opinion that it is better that these applications for modification are also heard by a larger bench,” the three-judge bench, also comprising Justices S A Bobde and C Nagappan, said.
Now, the applications seeking clarification and modification of the August 11 order will also be considered by the Constitution Bench, which would dwell upon whether the right to privacy is a fundamental right, and whether collection of data and biometrics under the UID scheme violates it.
The Centre, along with UIDAI, RBI, and other government agencies, would make a joint request Thursday before the Chief Justice of India to set up a Constitution Bench to start hearing this case.
Led by Attorney General Mukul Rohatgi, the government and its various wings had mentioned the matter before CJI H L Dattu Tuesday and Wednesday. On Tuesday, Justice Dattu said he would need to examine how and when the top court can have at least seven judges come together to hear this case, while Wednesday, he told Rohatgi to come to him the next day after the three-judge bench decides on their plea for modification.
The matter is likely to be referred to a bench comprising at least seven judges since the previous judgments on right to privacy, which have been dubbed “contradictory” by Rohatgi, have been delivered by benches comprising eight, six and three judges at different points in time.
Apart from the Centre and its various wings, a clutch of states also moved the apex court seeking permission to use Aadhaar for various schemes.
Rohatgi said the Supreme Court cannot shut its doors on 50 crore people because of its interim order confining the use of Aadhaar to PDS and LPG schemes. “This is a court, which opened its doors for a man on death row at 2 am. It cannot close its doors on 50 crore people now,” he argued. He added that Aadhaar is meant for targeted delivery of services to the poor and stalling it on the pretext of right to privacy would be tantamount to depriving them of various benefits.
The UIDAI argued that restrictions on the use of Aadhaar would undermine the government’s Digital India initiative and requested for clearance to include Aadhaar’s use for schemes like biometric attendance system, digital certificates and pension payments, among others.