The Centre on Wednesday informed the Supreme Court that the deadline for mandatorily enrolling for Aadhaar to get access to various social welfare schemes and benefits have been extended from September 30 to December 31, 2017.
Attorney-General K.K. Venugopal submitted before a Bench led by Chief Justice of India about the extension in deadline during an urgent mentioning in the Supreme Court by petitioners who have challenged the validity of the Aadhaar scheme and the Aadhaar Act of 2016. The petitioners, represented by senior advocate Shyam Divan, wanted an early hearing on the ground that the last date of linking Aadhaar cards of beneficiaries to these welfare schemes fell on September 30.
A series of notifications issued by various central ministries under Section 7 of the Aadhaar Act of 2016 required beneficiaries to enroll for Aadhaar to continue getting the benefits.
On hearing Mr. Venugopal’s submission, a Bench led by Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra posted the Aadhaar petitions for the first week of November.
Mr. Divan then drew the court’s attention to the concluding paragraph in Justice Rohinton Nariman’s privacy judgment. This paragraph directed the Aadhaar petitions to be posted for hearing before the “original” three-judge Bench.
This Bench led by Justie J. Chelameswar had referred the petitions for hearing before a five-judge Bench, keeping in mind the pertinent legal question – whether privacy is a fundamental right or not – that had to be answered first.
The five-judge Bench had referred the legal question to a nine-judge Bench to nunerically overcome the MP Sharma and Kharak Singh judgments which had declared that privacy was not a fundamental right.
Last week, the nine-judge Bench led by then CJI J.S. Khehar unanimously upheld privacy to be a fundamental right intrinsic to life and personal liberty.
The nine-judge Bench’s verdict in favour the common man’s right to privacy against the State has a crucial bearing in the Aadhaar petitions, which have argued that Aadhaar’s use of biometric details like fingerprints and iris scans violate bodily and informational privacy.
The petitioners, including Magsaysay award winner Shanta Sinha, have challenged the validity of more than 17 government schemes insisting Aadhaar for availing benefits of midday meals, disability pension, Bhopal gas tragedy victims, among other programmes. The deadline for linking Aadhaar in these schemes have now been extended to December 31.
The petitions argued that mandatory requirement of Aadhaar for these schemes “constrict rights and freedoms which a citizen has long been enjoying unless and until they part with their personal biometric information to the government”.
The petitions have termed the Aadhaar Act of 2016 as unconstitutional. The Act is contrary to concept of limited and accountable government, it contended.
“Collection of biometric data including fingerprints and storing it as a central pository per second puts the State in an extremely dominant position in relation to the individual citizen,” the petition said.
“Going by the stand if UIDAI itself, the number of cases where de-duplication resulted in the rejection of an application for an Aadhaar number is to the tune of nine crore out of around 100 crore enrolments. The number 9 crore is just a little less than the population of Bihar and twice the population Odisha as per the 2011 census,” it said.