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SC order on interim relief on mandatory linking of Aadhaar today

IANS | New Delhi |

The Supreme Court will on Friday pronounce its order on the plea for interim relief on a batch of petitions seeking stay of various Central and state government notifications mandating the linking of Aadhaar with various schemes including taking exam by the students, availing scholarship, cremation and treatment of HIV positive patients.

The government has already issued 139 notifications mandating the linking of Unique Identification Number with various schemes including rural job guarantee, old age pensions, provident fund and the Jan Dhan Yojana.

Reserving the order after the hearing spread over three and half hours on Thursday, the five judge constitution bench headed by Chief Justice Dipak Misra said that the regular hearing on the batch of petitions challenging the constitutional validity of Aadhaar being violative of right to privacy would commence on January 10, 2018.

Besides Chief Justice Misra, other judges on the constitution bench are Justice A.K.Sikri, Justice A.M.Khanwilkar, Justice D.Y, Chandrachud and Justice Ashok Bhushan.

The court indicated that it will address the government plea for mandatory linking of Aadhaar with the opening of new bank accounts in its order to be pronounced on Friday.

As Attorney General K.K.Venugopal insisted that this should be allowed, the counsel for petitioners said that if in the last seven decades, the system of introduction by an existing account holder has worked, heavens would not fall if it continues for another three months.

The court is also likely to pass order extending February 6 deadline for the linking of mobile numbers with Aadhaar to March 31.

The government has already extended December 31 deadline on the linking Aadhaar with the existing bank accounts till March 31.

Giving the chronology of the different orders passed by the Supreme Court since 2012, senior counsel Shyam Divan, at the outset of the hearing, said that the top court injunction that Aadhaar is voluntary stands as there is no variation of this injunction by the court despite several attempts by the government to dilute them.

Pointing to the ways that the government was flouting the top court’s orders by issuing notifications and circulars making Aadhaar mandatory for so many things, he asked the court to “protect the institution first before protecting the citizens.”

As Divan – appearing for former Karnataka High Court judge Justice K.S.Puttuswamy – made his impassioned plea, Chief Justice Misra said: “You are on rhetoric and hyperbole.”

Justice Sikri said that his argument is that because this court has passed interim orders, the government had to come to the court before issuing circulars, while Justice Chandrachud said what he was saying concerns reasonableness of the actions but the court was on the validity of the Aadhaar Act.

Senior counsel Gopal Subramanium, appearing for another petitioner, argued on the paramouncy of the top court and its orders passed by it, saying that the manner in which the government, despite the apex court orders, had issued notifications and circulars, amounted to an encroachment on judicial powers.

Other senior counsel K.V.Vishvanathan, Meenakshi Arora, and Prashant Bhushan too argued for the strict enforcement of the top court’s orders.

The Attorney General K.K.Venugopal however said that the notifications were issued on the strength of Section 7 of the Aadhaar Act – a point that was contested by the petitioners.

Senior counsel C.A. Sundaram and Rakesh Dwivedi too defended the action of the government and its various agencies in issuing circulars for linking Aadhaar to various schemes.

Dwivedi said that because of the Aadhar linking, about 2.2 lakh fake accounts have been discovered, while 85 crore bank accounts have been linked to Aadhaar, but Bhushan countered that compared to 85 crore bank accounts, 2.2 lakh fake accounts were a minuscule percentage.

At this, Chief Justice Misra said that it was not the percentage but the impact of the numbers that matters. He said in a town of 20,000 people, 200 anti-social elements can bring a bad name and affect the life of the other people.