Relief not applicable to benefits under Section 7 of Act
In a relief for citizens, the Supreme Court indefinitely extended the deadline for linking Aadhaar with mobile phones, tatkal passports and for opening bank accounts from March 31, 2018 till the Constitution Bench led by Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra pronounces its final verdict on the validity of the Aadhaar scheme.
Remarking that it has had enough of “piecemeal” notifications and legislations issued by the government to link one service or the other, Chief Justice Misra said it is time the court stepped in and stopped passing interim orders extending the deadline. There should be a sense of certainty that citizens would not be harmed or their services curtailed even as the very Aadhaar scheme is under the apex court’s microscope.
Linkage with PAN
On December 15 last year, the Bench had extended the Aadhaar linkage deadline from December 31, 2017 to March 31, 2018. It had however, even then concluded that the Aadhaar-PAN linkage was valid.
Tuesday’s order is more or less identical to the interim order passed on December 15 except for the fact that March 31, 2018 continues to be the deadline for linking Aadhaar to subsidies, benefits and services prescribed under Section 7 of the Aadhaar Act of 2016.
‘Not all services’
Despite submissions made by senior advocate Shyam Divan and advocate Vipin Nair that the indefinite extension of the deadline should include all services, including those under Section 7, the court restricted its relaxation of the deadline to services outside Section 7.
The March 13 order itself does not dwell on why the extension was not made applicable to benefits under Section 7.
“On a query being made, Mr. K.K. Venugopal, learned Attorney General for India, submitted that this Court may think of extending the interim order. However, the benefits, subsidies and services covered under Section 7 of the The Aadhaar (Targeted Delivery of Financial and other Subsidies, Benefits and Services) Act, 2016 should remain undisturbed. We accept the same,” the court said, dismissing the notion of including Section 7 benefits too.
Section 7 of the Aadhaar Act says that the Centre and State governments can insist on Aadhaar “for the purpose of establishing identity of an individual as a condition for receipt of a subsidy, benefit or service for which the expenditure is incurred from the Consolidated Fund of India.” To undergo authentication to access services under Section 7, an individual has to either produce his Aadhaar card or Aadhaar enrolment application.
Lawyers for the petitioners hint that the court may have excluded Section 7 benefits from the extension because it is statutorily protected by the Aadhaar Act itself, whereas the other linkings like mobile phones are based on other statutes or even executive notifications.
The fact that time is running out for linking Aadhaar and citizens should not be left in a state of uncertainty was highlighted by one of the judges, Justice D.Y. Chandrachud, on the Aadhaar Constitution Bench itself. “We are dealing with the entire financial system… We cannot let this state of uncertainty prevail… We cannot tell them, like on March 27, whether the deadline is extended or not… A banker cannot be expected to seek compliance from customers within seven days,” Justice Chandrachud had said on March 7.