New Delhi, Sept. 23: The Supreme Court has said in an interim order that no state and Union territory can deny social or other government benefits to a beneficiary 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 interim order today while posting for final disposal hearing on a PIL filed by a retired high court judge of Karnataka, Justice K.S. Puttaswamy.
The former judge had 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 cards. 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.
But in Ranchi, Jharkhand chief secretary R.S. Sharma, a former director general of Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) that runs the project, said the Aadhaar number was not mandatory for registration of marriages.
The counsels also referred to the proposal to restrict LPG subsidy to Aadhaar number holders. They added that for 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.
According to a Union government decision, the Aadhaar number is mandatory for securing LPG subsidy in select districts, including Calcutta, Howrah and Cooch Behar in Bengal, after October 31 with a grace period of three months.
If the court revokes its interim order eventually, it will mean that LPG consumers in the chosen districts will need the Aadhaar number to access the subsidy after January 31, 2014. The coverage of the requirement will be expanded to more districts later.
The Aadhaar number is not required for buying LPG cylinders at the non-subsidised rate, officials later said.
In his petition, Justice Puttaswamy 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 said there were no safeguards or penalties and no legislative backing for obtaining personal information, and the legislation introduced by the government has been rejected by the parliamentary standing committee on finance.
The unique identification bill, under which the Aadhar card is issued, is yet to become law, though it was introduced in 2010.
“The linkage of Aadhaar number with various government benefits and services, such as food security under the newly enacted Food Security Act, LPG subsidy, Employees’ Provident Fund, and other DBT (direct benefit transfer) services... makes enrolment with the Aadhaar scheme mandatory, completely falsifying the government’s claim of it being voluntary,” the petition said.
He alleged that the indiscriminate allocation of Aadhaar numbers to all residents, including illegal migrants, could create a serious threat to national security.
The Aadhaar is now issued on production of residential and identity proof. The government has repeatedly clarified that the Aadhaar card is not a proof of citizenship but a means to reach benefits to the people.