New Delhi: In a jolt to the Centre, the Supreme Court on Wednesday refused to modify its interim order and allow bodies like RBI and SEBI and some states to allow voluntary use of Aadhaar card for welfare schemes other than the public distribution system (PDS) and LPG schemes.
A bench headed by Justice J Chelameswar, which had already referred the batch of pleas challenging the Aadhaar scheme on the question of right to privacy, made it clear that all applications seeking "modification, clarification and relaxation" of its August 11 interim order will be heard by the constitution bench itself.
"We are of the opinion that it is better that these applications for modification are also heard by a larger bench," the three-judge bench, which also comprised Justices S A Bobde and C Nagappan, said.
On August 11, the apex court had said that Aadhaar card will remain optional for availing welfare schemes of the government and the authorities will not use it for the purposes other than PDS and LPG distribution system.
The Centre, RBI, SEBI, IRDA, TRAI, Pension Fund Regulatory Authority and states like Gujarat and Jharkhand had recently moved the court and pitched strongly for voluntary use of Aadhaar cards for providing benefits of various schemes, other than PDS and LPG, at the doorsteps of the aged and the weaker sections.
At the outset, the bench had raised the question whether it can entertain such interim applications after transferring main petitions to a constitution bench to decide on issues like right to privacy.
Attorney General Mukul Rohatgi referred to the fact that as on August 21, over 90 crore citizens have already been issued Aahaar cards by the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI).
He also said that since the apex court had said Aadhaar card was not mandatory, there should not be any problem in allowing it to be used on voluntarily basis to establish the identity of persons and make available the benefits of other welfare schemes as well.
However, the pleas for relaxation of the August 11 order restricting the use of Aadhaar cards for PDS scheme and LPG distribution scheme, was opposed by those petitioners on whose PILs the apex court had said these cards will not be mandatory for availing benefits of welfare schemes.
The Attorney General had opened the arguments for UIDAI for lifting the bar on use of Aadhaar cards for various welfare schemes, including Prime Minister's Jan Dhan Yojna.
Rohatgi had said issue of privacy cannot be linked to Aadhaar as the government was making efforts for those who cannot reach the court.
He had also submitted that crores of rupees had been spent on the UIDAI scheme to connect six lakh villages with various welfare measures like MNREGA, pension scheme, Jan Dhan Yojana etc and 85,000 bank correspondents had been deployed to take the benefits to the doorsteps of the beneficiaries.
Further, the Aadhaar cards would help in stopping fake withdrawal of money arising out of welfare scheme and pensioners would not have to visit the pension officer every year in November to establish they are alive, he had said.
Rohatgi had said schemes under Aadhaar cards would be for financial inclusion of those left out and rubbished the objections, saying these were being raised by the rich and effluent "having million other means to realise their needs."
Earlier, the Supreme Court, while terming Aadhaar as optional, had barred the authorities from sharing personal biometric data collected for enrolment under the scheme.
It had also passed a slew of directions for the Centre till the matter was finally decided by a larger bench.
The bench was hearing a batch of pleas against decisions of some states to make Aadhaar cards compulsory for a range of activities including payment of salary, provident fund disbursement, marriage and property registration.
The Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI), established by the UPA-2 in 2009, issues Aadhaar cards to the citizens.
Under the programme, every citizen is to be provided with a 12-digit unique identification number for which biometric information is collected.