Yesterday, a new petition challenging several sections under the Aadhaar Act came up for hearing before a two-judge bench of the Supreme Court. The bench, comprising of Justices A.K. Sikri and Ashok Bhushan, was the same that heard the petitions challenging s. 139AA of the Income Tax Act, which made it it mandatory to link one’s Permanent Account Number (PAN) with Aadhaar.
The hearing began with the bench wanting to know why another petition had been filed, considering several petitions challenging the Aadhaar scheme as well as the Aadhaar Act were already pending before the Court. To recall, these earlier petitions were referred to the Chief Justice of India on 11 August 2015 to constitute a larger bench to decide the existence and scope of a fundamental right to privacy. Privacy is one among several grounds on which the validity of the project has been challenged. Almost two years since, this bench is yet to be constituted. Yesterday, the counsel for the petitioners argued that the interim relief sought in the present case distinguished it from the earlier batch of petitioners.
By way of interim relief, the petitioners sought a stay on eighteen Executive notifications, which made Aadhaar a mandatory condition to receive benefits under several welfare schemes. These included compensation schemes for victims of the Bhopal Gas tragedy, the Mid-day Meal scheme as well as Ujjawala, a scheme for the prevention and rehabilitation of victims of trafficking. For many of these, the deadline to furnish Aadhaar is 30 June 2017. This makes interim relief crucial, considering that the Supreme Court is officially on vacation till 2 July 2017.
The Solicitor General, appearing for the Central Government, stated that the same notifications had been challenged in the main petitions too, by way of interim applications. The petitioners’ counsel reiterated the urgency in the matter and emphasised how the mandatory condition could lead to large scale exclusion of legitimate beneficiaries. However, in the judges’ view even interim relief could only be given by the Constitution bench (which has not yet been formed), since the issues and the grounds in the writ were substantially similar to the earlier petitions.
In its order, the Court issued notice in the petition. Further, it tagged this petition with the batch of existing petitions challenging the vires of Aadhaar. It also noted that urgent orders were required and granted the petitioners liberty to approach the Chief Justice for relief, including interim relief.