The Supreme Court of India has provided temporary relief to Indians who are yet to link their Aadhaar cards to their bank accounts and mobile numbers. The deadline is now March 31st, 2018.
Aadhaar, which means 'foundation' is a 12 digit unique-identity number issued to all Indian residents based on their biometric and demographic data. The data is collected by the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI). The Central Government contended before the Supreme Court on May 3rd, 2017 that it is mandatory for the citizens to have a unique identification number and hence a person cannot refuse to provide their samples of fingerprints and iris.
The idea of Aadhaar card was introduced by Nandan Nilekani on 26th November of 2012. The vision behind it was to empower residents of India with a unique identity and a digital platform to facilitate authentication.
On June 2017, the Supreme Court passed an order on compulsory linking of an individual’s income tax PAN and Aadhaar numbers. The central government has stood firm on giving welfare benefits only for those with Aadhaar after 30 June. The government claims that by linking the Aadhaar with PAN, authorities will be able to crack down on people who are escaping the tax net.
Indians had been given a deadline till December 31st to link their Aadhaar card numbers to their mobile phones and their banks accounts. However, on December 2017, India’s Supreme Court extended the deadline to March 31st 2018.
“Those who already have Aadhaar cannot go on [open a new bank account] without Aadhaar. If they have Aadhaar, they will have to furnish it to the bank,” Chief Justice Misra clarified to senior advocate C.A. Sundaram, appearing for the UIDAI (Unique Identification Authority of India).
“You see, there is no question of producing Aadhaar enrollment application for those who already possess Aadhaar cards,” said Justice D.Y. Chandrachud, who authored the interim order for the five-judge Bench.
The Constitution bench was headed by Chief Justice Dipak Misra. The bench has passed on order on a series of petitions that had sought interim relief from linking the Aadhaar card to a number of services in India. The bench was also comprised Justices A K Sikri, A M Khanwilkar, D Y Chandrachud and Ashok Bhushan.
Shyam Divan, a senior advocate and one of the petitioners had noted that linking of the Aadhaar card had been extended to various other sectors such as medical treatment for HIV patients, applying for scholarships and even nursery admissions. He noted that this was in violation of court orders.
“The government has disregarded the court’s earlier orders that continue to have full sanctity and say that until the apex court takes a final decision on Aadhaar, it cannot be made mandatory for all services,” Divan said. He added that the government should have sought variation of orders limiting mandatory use of Aadhaar.
The bench has also stated that applicants looking to open new bank accounts will not have to provide Aadhaar card numbers to the requisite bank. There were 1.171 billion holders of the Aadhaar card number as of 15th August 2017.
Our assessment is that the Supreme Court’s decision will provide interim relief to millions of Aadhaar card holders for a few more months. However, concerns remain regarding whether the Aadhaar infringes on an individual’s privacy. There are also fears that a large scale breach could result in the theft of data belonging to over a billion people in India.