New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Tuesday extended indefinitely its March 31 deadline for linking bank accounts and mobile phone numbers with Aadhaar.
It, however, said the government may continue to seek the 12-digit national biometric identifier number of beneficiaries for transfer of benefits of schemes funded from the consolidated fund of India.
"We direct that the interim order passed on December 15, 2017 shall stand extended till the matter is finally heard and the judgement is pronounced," a five-judge Constitution bench headed by chief justice Dipak Misra said, giving relief to lakhs of people who have not yet linked their bank accounts and mobile phones with Aadhaar.
The bench, also comprising justices A K Sikri, A M Khanwilkar, D Y Chandrachud and Ashok Bhushan, said Aadhaar will not be mandatory for obtaining Tatkal passports too.
During the hearing, attorney general K K Venugopal requested the court that the extension of the deadline should not disturb the benefits, subsidies and services covered under Section 7 of the Aadhaar (Targeted Delivery of Financial and other Subsidies, Benefits and Services) Act, 2016.
The provision says that Centre or state governments may seek Aadhaar for establishing the identity of beneficiaries of their schemes.
It also says people, who have not secured Aadhaar number, can avail benefits of government schemes by establishing the fact that they have applied for the biometric identifier.
The provision also says those who have neither the Aadhaar card nor its enrolment number, can still avail the benefits, and that they would be offered alternative and viable means of identification for delivery of the subsidy, benefit or service.
Senior Congress leader and advocate P Chidambaram, appearing for his party colleague Jairam Ramesh, one of the petitioners in the matter, told the bench that the Aadhaar Bill was wrongly termed as a Money Bill by Lok Sabha Speaker to bypass the Rajya Sabha.
He referred to various schemes like the MGNREGA and the Food Security Act the money for which also came from the consolidated fund of India, but the bills for their passage were not categorised as Money Bill.
Under Article 109 (1) of the Constitution, a money bill cannot be introduced in Rajya Sabha. Once passed by the Lok Sabha, it is sent to Rajya Sabha. The Rajya Sabha can neither reject nor amend the bill, and must return it within 14 days, after which Lok Sabha may choose to accept or reject all or any of its recommendations.
The senior lawyer rejected the government's contention that since the funds for various Aadhaar-linked welfare schemes would come from the consolidated fund of India (CFI), the Aadhaar (Targeted Delivery of Financial and Other Subsidies, Benefits and Services) Bill, 2016 was a money bill.
Senior lawyer K V Viswanathan, in his argument, attacked various provisions of the Aadhaar Act, saying they were in violation of fundamental rights and impinged upon the privacy of individuals.
The apex court's directive on Tatkal passports came after senior advocates Arvind Datar and Shyam Divan informed the bench that the government has come up with new Passports (1st Amendment) Rules, 2018, by which Tatkal passports were issued only on furnishing Aadhaar.
Attorney General Venugopal, appearing for the Centre, said Aadhaar is being taken only for issuing Tatkal passports and not for normal passports.
"Police verification of an individual is done after he or she is issued a Tatakal passport and for that purpose Aadhaar is being taken by the concerned authorities. In case of normal passport, pre-police verification is being done and for that purpose Aadhaar is not being taken," Venugopal said.
The bench said extension of the deadline for mandatory linkage of Aadhaar "shall also control and govern the Passports (1st Amendment) Rules, 2018".
The hearing remained inconclusive and would continue tomorrow.
The constitution bench is hearing a batch of petitions challenging the constitutional validity of Aadhaar and its enabling Act.
On March 6, the attorney general had indicated to the bench that the Centre was willing to extend the March 31 deadline in view of the likelihood of the hearing getting prolonged.
On December 15 last year, the apex court had extended till March 31 the deadline for mandatory linking of Aadhaar with various services and welfare schemes.