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Aadhaar not must for aid

New Delhi, Sept. 23: The Supreme Court has said no state and Union territory can deny social or other government benefits on the ground that the Aadhaar card is not available.

The court also directed the government to ensure that illegal migrants were not granted the card.

A bench of justices B.S. Chauhan and S.A. Bobde passed the order today while posting for final hearing on a PIL filed by a retired high court judge of Karnataka, Justice K.S. Puttaswamy.

The former judge questioned the constitutional validity of the scheme and alleged that the card was being given even to illegal migrants, posing a threat to national security.

The apex court issued two interim directives. One, no benefit or service shall be denied on account of non-possession of Aadhaar. Two, no illegal migrants should be issued the card.

Senior counsel Anil Divan and counsel Ankit Goel, appearing for the petitioner, contended that Aadhaar had resulted in the denial of many benefits and services to persons who are otherwise eligible. The counsel cited the alleged instances of linkages with the card such as salaries to teaching and non-teaching staff in Maharashtra on the basis of Aadhaar and registration of marriages in Jharkhand only for Aadhaar number holders.

They also referred to the proposal to restrict LPG connections and subsidy to Aadhaar number holders. They added that for availing many government scholarships, the Aadhaar number was mandatory.

However, solicitor-general Mohan Parasaran and additional solicitor-general L. Nageswara Rao, appearing for the Centre, stated that Aadhaar was purely voluntary and no interim directions were required.

In his petition, Justice Puttaswami submitted that the entire Aadhaar scheme was unconstitutional as the individuals obtaining the number are required to part with personal information, such as iris images and fingerprints, that infringed the right to privacy. The petitioner submitted that there were no safeguards or penalties and no legislative backing for obtaining personal information, and the proposed legislation introduced by the government has been rejected by the parliamentary standing committee on finance.

It said provisions for collection and retention of biometric data has been held to be impermissible in countries such as the UK and France by their respective top courts. “The linkage of Aadhaar number with many government benefits and services ... makes enrolment with the Aadhaar scheme mandatory, completely falsifying the government’s claim of it being voluntary,” the petition said.