New Delhi, July 21: The Supreme Court today expressed serious concern over some states' insistence on Aadhaar cards to extend social welfare schemes and other common services to citizens despite its two interim orders that the card should not be made mandatory until the court has decided its constitutional validity.
A three-judge bench of Justices J. Chelameshwar, S.A. Bobde and C. Nagappan asked attorney-general Mukul Rohatgi to report to it by tomorrow the erring states that continue to insist on Aadhaar cards.
"Notwithstanding our interim orders, some of the states are still insisting upon the cards, going by the newspaper reports. Even today in the morning, I saw a newspaper (report) that a very senior officer in a particular state had said that the card is mandatory... it is a very unfortunate situation," said Justice Chelameshwar, heading the bench.
The judge asked the attorney-general to verify the reports.
Rohatgi said he would check and get back to the court. "I will ask the states not to do it, we will write to them. As far as we (Centre) are concerned, we are going strictly by the interim order, we have told them 'don't insist'."
The apex court had on September 23, 2013, restrained the government from making the cards mandatory for social welfare schemes until it decided the validity of the scheme that has been challenged as "unconstitutional" in PILs. It reiterated the stay on March 16, 2015.
The three-judge bench today commenced a fresh hearing of the matter that will be spread over two weeks as the earlier presiding judge, Justice B.S. Chauhan, has retired.
Appearing for the Centre, Rohatgi urged the court to refer the matter to a five-judge Constitution bench because it involves complex constitutional questions, including the right to privacy and other freedoms guaranteed to citizens.
The bench asked the attorney-general to prepare suitable points for the court to consider whether or not the issue needs to be referred to a larger bench. Rohatgi will present the points tomorrow.
The Centre had through an affidavit last week urged the court to vacate its stay on making Aadhaar cards mandatory, pleading that this was affecting social welfare schemes.
It said the stay has affected the effective implementation of the Direct Benefits Transfers (DBT). Although financial benefits are now being transferred to bank accounts, the government is unable to locate fake, ghost or duplicate accounts, which it could have "easily done if Aadhaar numbers are provided", the application said. The government promised all safeguards during the enrolment.
The Narendra Modi government told the court it intends to link the Aadhaar cards to obtaining passports, PAN cards, immigration, railways, telecommunications and prison management systems. It said that since the Aadhaar "scheme has been a tremendous success", the government wants to extend it to all welfare projects.
The stand is in contrast to the BJP's sharp criticism of Aadhaar - a flagship programme of UPA-II - when the party was in the Opposition. Narendra Modi had in his election speeches described the Aadhaar scheme as a "scam".
The PILs have challenged introduction of Aadhaar by way of an executive order on January 28, 2009, arguing that it violated citizens' fundamental right to privacy.