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Linking Aadhaar to bank accounts, mobiles: SC asks govt whether it plans coercive action

An Aadhaar card, containing a 12-digit identification number, is issued to individuals after collecting their biometric data such as retina scan and fingerprints.

india Updated: Oct 26, 2017 10:03 IST
Bhadra Sinha
Bhadra Sinha
Hindustan Times, New Delhi
Aadhaar,Aadhaar linking,Aadhaar linking to bank accounts
This is the second time that the Centre has extended the deadline for linking Aadhaar to welfare schemes.(AFP file)

The Supreme Court on Wednesday asked the government whether it would take coercive action against people who did not link their bank accounts and mobile numbers to the Aadhar unique-identity scheme before the government’s stipulated deadline.

A bench headed by chief justice Dipak Misra sought the clarification after attorney general KK Venugopal said the government was willing to extend the deadline for the mandatory linking from December 31, 2016 to March 31 next year, but only for those who had not registered under Aadhaar yet and “are willing to enroll”.

The top court is hearing a raft of petitions challenging the government’s move, which has raised privacy concerns, especially after recent massive leak of citizens details – including mobile numbers and bank details.

An Aadhaar card, containing a 12-digit identification number, is issued to individuals after collecting their biometric data such as retina scan and fingerprints.

The top court recently ruled that privacy is a “guaranteed fundamental right” which the petitioners are citing to build their case.

Advocates for the petitioners relied on a two-page government note containing the proposal for extending the deadline.

The three-month leeway, the government note read, was for “Aadhaar-willing” citizens.

Those with Aadhaar numbers, it said, would be required to sync their numbers with SIM cards, bank accounts, PAN and other schemes where notifications under the law have been issued.

The “discrimination” between Aadhaar card holders and those without it was strongly opposed in the court, prompting the bench to ask Venugopal to reconsider its proposal.

“Can we say you (government) will take no coercive action till March 31?” the court asked the AG who gave a verbal assurance, which did not satisfy the petitioners. He was then asked to come back to court on Monday with a response.

Senior advocate Shyam Divan, lawyer for one of the petitioners, contended the note meant Aadhaar card holders would be forced to part with their bank details and mobile phones. A sizeable section of the population have Aadhaar but are apprehensive to link it, he said.

He referred to government promises given to the court in past, despite which, he argued Aadhaar continued to “spread.”

“Assurances are being made since 2014. The way Aadhaar is spreading is unconstitutional. Now those who have Aadhaar are vulnerable. People who have Aadhaar do not want to link. They have to share their one time password,” Divan submitted, saying the petitions against Aadhaar have been “crying for a hearing” in SC since 2014.

He reminded the court that the attorney general had agreed for a hearing in November.

Venugopal said the government-appointed expert committee on Data Protection Law headed by former SC judge, Justice BN Srikrishna, has started working towards a robust data protection regime as the top court suggested in its privacy judgement.

The committee is also considering changes in the Aadhaar Act of 2016 and the Information Technology Act of 2000. A final form of law would be available by February 2018 due to which the government has proposed to extend the deadline for Aadhaar linking.

Senior advocate Arvind Datar – appearing for one of the petitioners - asked the government to make it categorical that nobody would it coerced to link Aadhaar. When the counsel repeatedly urged the CJI to set up a constitution bench to decide the issue once for all, the judges got upset.

“You cannot command us... come back and mention on Monday,” the court said.

First Published: Oct 25, 2017 16:28 IST