Monday, September 23, 2013

Aadhaar purpose in doubt as SC says its not must

NEW DELHI: The Supreme Court on Monday dealt a crippling blow to UPA's showpiece Aadhaar scheme by ruling that it can only be issued to those with proven Indian nationality and cannot be mandatory for accessing public services and subsidies.

"In the meanwhile, the Aadhaar card cannot be made mandatory. If anyone applies for Aadhaar card, then you have to verify whether he is a citizen of India or not. These cards cannot be issued to illegal migrants," said a bench of Justices B S Chauhan and S A Bobde as they frowned upon the unique identity numbers being issued without verifying the antecedents of individuals.

The move is a serious setback to the government's plans to transfer cash and subsidies directly into bank accounts of beneficiaries. Meeting the verification criterion laid down by the apex court could prove to be a tough task because only a small part of the population has proof of nationality such as a passport. That the Unique Identification Authority of India, an entity floated by UPA-2 for rolling out the ambitious Aadhaar scheme, is a lean body dependent on vendors only adds to the complication. The UIDAI enjoys no legal backing either.

However, the SC order may come as a respite to citizens who were harried by the growing demand of authorities to link delivery of a whole array of services and subsidies such as those for cooking gas to Aadhaar cards. In states like Delhi, even marriage registration is now dependent on Aadhaar. Given the huge number of complaints about access to the cards, the insistence has become a major irritant for households.

The court's order came on a petition protesting the issuance of Aadhaar cards to illegal migrants.

Before the bench passed the interim order on a PIL filed by retired Karnataka High Court judge K Puttaswamy, solicitor general Mohan Parasaran and additional solicitor general L Nageswar Rao put up a mild resistance saying the cards were issued on voluntary basis and clarified that it was never meant to be mandatory.

"The enforcement machinery is tightened. Just because one or two aberrations being reported by the media does not mean the Aadhar cards are being issued to all and sundry," Parasaran said

The law officers denied that the Centre had issued any direction to states to make Aadhaar cards mandatory even as petitioners' counsel Anil Divan and Shyam Divan cited the Maharashtra example where government employees have been ordered to get Aadhaar cards issued in their name so as to receive salary.

The counsel also alleged that Aadhaar cards were being issued to illegal migrants and made mandatory for getting gas connections and even registration of marriages, a charge denied by the Centre.

However, Shyam Divan countered saying that even the Bombay High Court registrar general's order asking all, including judges, to get Aadhaar cards were made to facilitate smooth transfer of salaries.

The bench wondered how such a direction could be issued when the Union government, the brain and financial power behind the scheme, was clear that it was a voluntary scheme.
After clarifying the voluntary nature of Aadhaar cards, the law officers requested the court not to pass an interim order restraining issuance of these identification cards to illegal migrants on the basis of their place of residence.

The bench said, "How does this order affect the Union government? If we say the Aadhaar cards must not be issued to illegal migrants, who gets affected? Why can't the government check whether a person is an Indian citizen or not before issuing the card?"

The court had issued notice on the PIL on November 30 last year. The petitioner had questioned the grant of UID numbers and Aadhaar cards to illegal migrants at a time when a bill to this effect, pending before Parliament, has already been rejected by the concerned parliamentary standing committee.

The PIL had requested the court to restrain the government from issuing UID numbers and Aadhaar cards till Parliament took a decision on the bill.

The petitioners, Justice Puttaswamy and another, said they had ascertained that the Unique Identification Number Project proposed to give UID numbers not only to citizens but also illegal migrants pursuant to a scheme framed by the government through an executive order of January 28, 2009.

Referring to several judgments of the Supreme Court on right to privacy of a citizen guaranteed under Article 21 of the Constitution, the petitioners said, "Collecting biometric information as a condition precedent for the issue of Aadhaar card is an invasion of right to privacy of citizens and thereby this can only be done by a law enacted by Parliament and hence, beyond the executive power."

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