The Supreme Court ‘prima facie’ found nothing wrong in the NDA government’s controversial rule making Aadhaar number mandatory for filing income tax returns, saying it was a shame that people in India evaded taxes.
A bench headed by justice AK Sikri agreed to examine the validity of the new income tax law, but also questioned the petitioners for doing so. It wondered why the Members of Parliament (MP) chose not to object to the government’s decision if the new provision was draconian or destructive as argued by the petitioners.
“It is a shame that in this country people evade tax. We can understand if there is tax avoidance. But there are tax evasions. Once there is a tax evasion the government has come out with the new provision. Government is trying to plug all these evasions and leakages,” justice Sikri told senior advocate Arvind Datar appearing for petitioner and CPI leader Binoy Visman.
The government has defended the move saying it was needed to curb black money as there were instances of people procuring multiple PAN cards to divert funds to shell companies. Attorney General Mukul Rohatgi told the bench that 99% of the population in India had already got their Aadhaar cards.
An Aadhaar card, containing a 12-digit identification number, is issued to individuals after collecting their biometric data such as retina scan and fingerprints, making them virtually tamper-proof.
Datar assailed the amendment to the IT act and said the government claimed it was an effort to curb black money. However, no such reasons were cited in the statements and objects of the Bill related to the amendment.
Datar said government wants to validate the PAN cards with just one amendment. These cards, he submitted,were held by people for decades and would result in disastrous consequences for income tax filers.
Senior advocate Shyam Divan, arguing for other two petitioners, recalled the government itself had blacklisted 34,000 enrolment agencies and cancelled 3.48 lakh Aadhaar cards after it was found that the agencies had either indulged in fraudulent means or had made bogus entries. He argued that the entire enrolment exercise was outsourced to private individuals who could easily sell personal details of citizens to commercial agencies. And despite this, the government is keen on linking all transactions such as driving licenses, bank and other financial transactions to Aadhaar cards.
Both the lawyers said government could not have taken recourse to such a measure, particularly when they gave a solemn assurance to the apex court that Aadhaar would not be mandatory.
However, justice Sikri was of the view that government was introducing the measure to provide welfare facilities to women, children and downtrodden section, so that the money does not go to any unauthorised person.
It also said that the court cannot substitute its decision over the will of the Parliament.
“What we are dealing with is a statute Parliament has enacted. Whether it will have a binding effect or not it is for Parliament to decide. We can examine the validity of the statute only to the extent whether it violates the fundamental right,” the bench observed. It fixed Thursday to hear the matter again.