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The Supreme Court on Friday sent a clear message to the public to not panic, by directing mobile service providers and banks to specify the last dates for linking mobile numbers and bank accounts to Aadhaar in the SMSs and e-mails they send to millions of subscribers.
A Bench of Justices A.K. Sikri and Ashok Bhushan ordered that mobile service providers and banks should specify that February 6, 2018 and December 31, 2017 are the last dates for Aadhaar linking.
‘Sense of panic among people’
Senior advocate K.V. Vishwanathan, appearing for the petitioners challenging the linking of mobile numbers with Aadhaar, said a sense of panic had been created among the public, with service providers bombarding them with these messages.
“I did not want to say it because the press reporters are standing here. But I am also getting messages to link my mobile phone and bank account to Aadhaar,” Justice Sikri remarked in the open court.
The Bench made it clear that the question of the very validity of the Aadhaar scheme is scheduled to be heard from the last week of November 2017. In case, by any chance, if that hearing is delayed, the petitioners are at liberty to mention for an extension in the Aadhaar linking of bank accounts.
The government had filed an affidavit in the Supreme Court stating hat it “may” extend the Aadhaar-bank account linking deadline to March 31, 2018.
“The final hearing in the Aadhaar case is starting from November last week and there is time for linking till December 31. In case the final hearing does not take place, you [petitioners] can mention,” Justice Sikri orally observed while issuing notice to the government.
Issuing notice to the government, the Bench went on to record in its order that the petitioners, represented by senior advocate Shyam Divan and advocate Vipin Nair, are “at liberty to press” their case for an extension of the December 31 deadline in case the final hearing does not take place during November-end.
Attorney General K.K. Venugopal agreed that there “is anyway time till December 31… heavens are not going to fall”.
Senior advocate Arvind Datar objected to how the government has threatened to close long-standing bank accounts if they are not linked to Aadhaar. He asked how ordinary citizens can be punished under rules framed under the Prevention of Money Laundering Act.
Rule 2(b) of the Prevention of Money Laundering (Maintenance of Records) Second Amendment Rules of 2017 requires Aadhaar for opening new bank accounts and for verification of existing bank accounts by December 31, 2017, failing which the “bank accounts will cease to be operational”.
“You [government] cannot make Aadhaar mandatory under the Prevention of Money Laundering Rules… My fundamental point is that such things cannot be done under a delegated legislation… there is a limit to everything,” Mr. Datar submitted.
The court callied it a valid point, but said Mr. Datar have to wait till November end and make his arguments before the appropriate Bench.
On October 30, based on a mentioning made by Mr. Venugopal, Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra agreed to constitute a larger Bench, possibly a five-judge Constitution Bench, to hear petitions against the validity of the Aadhaar scheme from November last week.
A Bench, led by Chief Justice Misra, took the firm step after Mr. Venugopal said falsehoods were spread about Aadhaar linking.
Mr. Venugopal had submitted (something he repeated today also) that an expert committee led by the former Supreme Court judge, Justice B.S. Srikrishna, is working on a draft Data Protection Bill to protect meta data taken from citizens in the case of Aadhaar. The expert body is expected to submit a report to the government in March next. They have even indicated changes in the Aadhaar Act itself in order to protect biometric data such as fingerprints and iris scans collected en masse from the public for Aadhaar enrollment.
Mr. Venugopal had sought the setting up of a Constitution Bench to decide, once and for all, the various Aadhaar challenges pending before the apex court since 2014, instead of passing any interim orders.
If a five-judge bench is set up, it would be despite Justice Nariman’s separate judgment in the nine-judge Bench declaring right to privacy as a fundamental right. Justice Nariman’s judgment had directed the Aadhaar petitions to be posted for hearing before the “original” three-judge Bench.
This ‘original’ Bench, led by Justice J. Chelameswar, had referred the petitions for hearing before a five-judge Bench, which found it necessary to first decide whether privacy was a fundamental right or not before hearing the Aadhaar petitions. It had referred the legal question to a nine-judge Bench, which came out with the historic judgment in favour of the common man’s fundamental right to privacy against State intrusions.
The nine-judge Bench verdict has a crucial bearing on the Aadhaar petitions, which have argued that Aadhaar’s use of biometric details such as fingerprints and iris scans violate bodily and informational privacy.
The petitioners challenging the Aadhaar scheme argue that the mandatory requirement of Aadhaar for public welfare schemes “constrict rights and freedoms which a citizen has long been enjoying unless and until they part with their personal biometric information to the government”.
The petitions have termed the Aadhaar Act of 2016 unconstitutional and contrary to concept of limited and accountable governance.
Source : The Hindu