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Somersault in govt plea for Aadhaar

Centre fights in SC for scheme Modi had labelled a 'scam'

By Our Bureau
  • Published 17.07.15

New Delhi, July 16: The Centre today urged the Supreme Court to vacate its two-year-old stay on making Aadhaar cards mandatory for welfare benefits, praising the "tremendous success" of a programme Narendra Modi had trashed as a "scam" while in Opposition.

Moving an application in the apex court, the government pleaded that the court stay was hobbling various social-sector programmes, including the direct benefit transfer schemes.

It said that while beneficiaries' money was now being transferred on the basis of bank account numbers, the government was "unable to locate the fakes, ghosts and duplications in the system". This "can be easily done if Aadhaar numbers are provided".

It added that the Aadhaar "scheme has been a tremendous success" and should be extended to all welfare projects as well as other systems, such as the issuance of passports, PAN cards, train tickets and phone connections.

During the general election campaign, Modi had slammed the Aadhaar project and Nandan Nilekani, the man who had been handling it before quitting to contest as the Congress candidate against the BJP's Ananth Kumar from Bangalore South.

"They have a person who has Rs 1,000 crore but no aadhaar (a pun on the word, which means 'foundation' in Hindi). They made him a candidate," Modi was quoted by agencies as telling a Bangalore rally on April 9 last year.

"He must answer what has been done with the hundreds of crores of rupees meant to issue Aadhaar cards. In the end, the Supreme Court had to intervene (by imposing a stay)."

Modi had smelt a "scam" in the huge sums allotted to the project while BJP spokesperson Meenakshi Lekhi had alleged a "fraud" and said the BJP would review the scheme if voted to power.

The apex court had on September 23, 2013, restrained the government from making the cards mandatory for social welfare schemes until it had decided the constitutional validity of the Aadhaar programme.

Several public interest pleas, one of them moved by a former Karnataka High Court judge, have alleged that Aadhaar - introduced through an executive order on January 28, 2009 - violates citizens' fundamental right to privacy as provided under Article 21.

On March 16 this year, the apex court reiterated the stay. But the matter did not come up thereafter as Justice B.S. Chauhan, who headed the bench hearing the case, has retired.

At the last hearing, Chief Justice of India H.L. Dattu had promised a new bench to hear the case. The matter is now listed for July 21, when the government's plea would be taken up.

Ironically, the government today said it wanted to use Aadhaar to check illegal immigration. But in March last year, Lekhi and Ananth had linked Aadhaar to "infiltration" from Bangladesh.

"This is a dangerous programme to regularise the illegal stay of migrants in the country," Lekhi was quoted as saying.

Ananth had said: "If you illegally enter other countries, you are shot at or put in jail. But if anyone enters India illegally, he is given citizenship. Aadhaar is the biggest fraud on the country."

Currently, the project is headed by V.S. Madan, director-general of the Unique Identification Authority of India who also holds additional charge as its chairperson.