Aadhaar card not mandatory for social welfare schemes: SC

New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Tuesday ruled that the Aadhaar card was not mandatory for availing benefits under the government’s social welfare schemes and personal information furnished by an individual for the card would not be shared with any person or authority.

“The production of an Aadhaar card will not be condition for obtaining any benefits otherwise due to a citizen,” the court said in its four direction interim order.

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A bench of Justice J. Chelameswar, Justice S.A.Bobde and Justice C. Nagappan said this while referring to the constitution bench the challenge to the constitutional validity of the Aadhaar scheme, in a batch of petitions, on the grounds that it violates the right to privacy.

In the interim order pronounced by Justice Bobde, the court, in one of its four directions, said: “The Unique Identification Number or the Aadhaar card will not be used by the respondents (the central government or its agencies) for any purpose other than the PDS Scheme and in particular for the purpose of distribution of foodgrains, etc. and cooking fuel, such as kerosene.”

It may also be used for the purpose of the LPG (cooking gas) distribution scheme, they added.

The court further said that the “information about an individual obtained by the Unique Identification Authority of India while issuing an Aadhaar card shall not be used for any other purpose, save as above, except as may be directed by a court for the purpose of criminal investigation”.

Taking on record Attorney General Mukul Rohatgi’s statement that the government and its agencies do not share any personal information of an Aadhaar card holder with any other person or authority, the court said it “allayed the apprehension for now, that there is a widespread breach of privacy of those to whom an Aadhaar card has been issued”.

It did not pass any order on the plea by senior counsel Shyam Divan appearing for petitioner Justice K.S.Puttaswamy, a former Karnataka High Court judge, that any further enrolment of people under the Aadhaar scheme should be put on hold till the matter was decided by the constitution bench, thus allowing the process to continue.

Another direction said that the government will give “wide publicity in the electronic and print media including radio and television networks that it is not mandatory for a citizen to obtain an Aadhaar card”.

It said the hearing by the constitution bench on the challenge to the Aadhaar scheme may be held as early as possible.

Referring the challenge to Aadhaar scheme on the grounds of its being violative of right to privacy to the constitution bench, the court said: “We are of the humble opinion that there appears to be certain amount of apparent unresolved contradiction in the law declared by this court” on the question whether privacy was a fundamental right or was just a right.

The court was referring to the conflicting judgments of 1954 by a eight judge bench and a 1964 six judge bench holding that right to privacy was not a fundamental right and that of the mid-1970s onwards where smaller bench of two to three judges gradually asserted that privacy was a right that can be read into the constitution’s article 21 or its other provisions.

“If the observations made (in 1954 and 1964) are to be read literally and accepted as the law of this country, the fundamental rights guaranteed under the Constitution of India and more particularly right to liberty under article 21 would be denuded of vigour and vitality.

“At the same time, we are also of the opinion that the institutional integrity and judicial discipline require that pronouncement made by larger benches of this court cannot be ignored by the smaller benches without appropriately explaining the reasons for not following the pronouncements made by such larger benches.

“Therefore, in our opinion to give a quietus to the kind of controversy raised… it is better that the ratio is scrutinized and the jurisprudential correctness of the subsequent decisions of this court where the right to privacy is either asserted or referred be examined and authoritatively decided by a bench of appropriate strength,” the court said.