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Aadhaar linking: SMSes from banks, telecom firms must mention deadlines: SC

The top court’s ruling comes as a temporary relief for people who are facing threats of their bank accounts being frozen and mobile connections snapped if they are not linked to Aadhar

india Updated: Nov 03, 2017 23:49 IST
Ashok Bagriya
Ashok Bagriya
Hindustan Times, New Delhi
Aadhaar,Aadhaar number,Aadhaar link
The top court is hearing a raft of petitions challenging the government’s directive for mandatory linking of Aadhaar number, raising privacy concerns, especially after a recent leak of citizens details including mobile numbers and bank details)(HT file photo)

Banks and mobile phone service providers must mention the deadlines — December 31 this year and February 6, 2018, respectively — in text messages sent to customers for linking their accounts and telephone numbers with Aadhaar, the Supreme Court said on Friday.

The court’s ruling clears the ambiguity over SMSes that don’t contain any deadline, implying customers must comply immediately.

“Once time till December 31 has been given to customers to link their Aadhaar numbers to bank accounts why were banks sending out messages that do not indicate the deadline?” a division bench of Justice AK Sikri and Justice Ashok Bhushan asked the government.

The court is hearing a clutch of petitions challenging the government’s directive for mandatory linking of Aadhaar, a 12-digit biometric identification number, in everything from operating bank accounts to buying property, from tax declarations to getting benefits from welfare schemes.

Senior advocate KV Vishwanathan, appearing for the petitioners, said phone service providers were creating panic by avoiding telling the people about the deadline.

Justice Sikri agreed. “I didn’t want to say it because press reporters are standing here. But I am also getting messages to link my mobile phone and bank account to Aadhaar,” he said.

According to a recent government affidavit, the bank accounts will not be frozen until March 31 next year for not linking with Aadhaar.

“But as far as opening new bank accounts are concerned, Aadhaar or enrolment ID must be given as proof of identity. For existing account holders, the deadline for Aadhaar-based verification is being extended to March 31 and no coercive action will be taken till then,” it says.

Attorney general KK Venugopal said as much on Friday.

“The government could extend the deadline beyond the December 31 and February 6 periods if the top court does not decide on the constitutionality of the Aadhaar project,” he said.

Critics oppose the government’s move, calling it a tool to invade people’s privacy and open to misuse by private agencies. The privacy concerns became more pronounced after a leak of people’s Aadhaar details, including phone numbers and bank information, in Jharkhand.

The government, which has collected fingerprints, iris scans and personal details of more than 80% of the country’s 1.25 billion people under the Aadhaar law, says the move is necessary to plug leakages in its subsidy programmes and prevent corruption.

Opposing the government’s decision, senior advocate Arvind Datar said: “How can ordinary citizens be punished with rules framed under the prevention of money laundering act. Point is that such things cannot be done under a delegated legislation.”

The court refused to stay the government initiative. It said: “The case challenging the legality of the Aadhaar act is to be heard by a constitution bench and if the court can’t decide by then, petitioners can seek the court’s intervention and ask for another extension of deadlines.”

The top court said on Monday a five-judge constitution bench will hear all cases related to Aadhaar, including linking the identification number with phones and banks. The court had ruled recently that privacy is a “guaranteed fundamental right”, which the petitioners are citing to build their case.

First Published: Nov 03, 2017 13:55 IST