New Delhi, Oct 8 (Agencies): The Supreme Court has promised to decide by Friday evening whether to set up a nine-judge bench to look into its earlier order restricting the use of the unique identification number Aadhaar for the purpose it was created.
The Aadhaar was designed to ensure that subsidies in the public distribution system (PDS) and cooking gas cylinders reach the poor, but now banks, a clutch of regulators, government agencies operating social schemes and others want to make wider use of the 12-digit identification number based on biometrics.
”Please give me time till tomorrow evening. Let me decide it. The question is I have to spare nine judges for this. What will happen to other matters?” a bench headed by Chief Justice H.L. Dattu said when Attorney General Mukul Rohatgi mentioned the matter before it.
Rohatgi's plea for urgent hearing of the application for modification of the earlier order was supported by a battery of senior lawyers, including K.K. Venugopal and Harish Salve.
”All social benefit schemes of the government are being affected. We seek the modification that the Aadhaar be allowed to be used voluntarily for the benefit of the poor and aged groups,” he said and referred to the importance of Aadhaar in the national rural jobs scheme and an ambitious project to get the poor to open savings bank accounts.
Salve suggested to the bench that instead of a nine-judge bench, a bench of five judges be constituted to decide the applications seeking modification of the earlier order.
On Wednesday, the apex court had refused to modify ts interim order and allow bodies such as the Reserve Bank of India, a clutch of regulators and some states to permit voluntary use of Aadhaar card for welfare schemes other than the PDS and sales of liquefied petroleum gas cylinders.
The court had made it clear that all applications seeking ”modification, clarification and relaxation” of its August 11 interim order would be heard by a Constitution Bench.
On August 11, the apex court had said that Aadhaar card will remain optional for people who want to avail themselves of government welfare schemes, and the authorities will not use it for the purposes other than PDS and LPG distribution system.
The Centre, RBI, the regulators of the stock market, telecom, pension and insurance sectors, and some states had moved the court and pitched for voluntary use of Aadhaar cards for providing benefits of various schemes, other than PDS and LPG, at the doorstep of the aged people and the weaker sections.
The Attorney General had pointed out that, as on August 21, over 900 million people had been issued Aadhaar cards by the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI).
Rohtagi had also said that since the apex court had stated Aadhaar card was not mandatory, there should not be any problem in allowing it to be used on voluntarily basis to establish the identity of persons and make available the benefits of other welfare schemes as well.
Earlier, the Supreme Court, while terming Aadhaar as optional, had barred the authorities from sharing personal biometric data collected for enrolment under the scheme.