The Supreme Court asked the government on Monday to clarify within two weeks if it intended to continue with the UPA’s plan of allowing Aadhaar cards as identity proof for transferring cash subsidies in welfare schemes.
The BJP was one of the biggest critics of the scheme when it was in opposition, on the grounds that biometric data collected impinged on a person’s privacy. The court’s observation comes at a time when the Modi government appears to be rethinking the Congress party’s flagship programme.
“We have read it in newspapers there is rethinking on the scheme. You have to tell us by Friday next. We are not issuing any notice in the matter for the time being,” the SC bench said while hearing a public interest litigation challenging the setting up of the Unique Identification Authority of India, the organisation overseeing the implementation of the Aadhaar project.
Solicitor general Ranjit Kumar told the court Aadhaar cards weren’t mandatory for availing benefits and sought time until February 13. The apex court had restrained authorities on September 2013 from making the card mandatory for receiving welfare and subsidies.
A batch of petitions challenging UIDAI has been pending before the top court but the NDA government hasn’t taken a stand on the issue. The petitions could not be disposed as justice BS Chauhan, who was heading the bench hearing the cases, retired in July last year. The cases haven’t been heard since.
The fresh PIL — filed by Bengaluru resident Mathew Thomas — says data collection is being done by foreign companies with questionable credentials and despite the court’s order, government departments had made Aadhaar cards compulsory for basic transactions.
The previous UPA government saw the scheme as a game-changer and had roped in Infosys founder Nandan Nilekani, who later fought the Lok Sabha elections as a Congress candidate.