Coming down heavily on the Narendra Modi government, the Supreme Court on Friday asked how they could make Aadhaar mandatory when the apex court has made it optional. The Court also asked the Centre to justify the need for making Aadhaar mandatory for filing income tax returns (ITRs).
The Court said it will examine next week the constitutional validity of central government's decision to link the Aadhaar with the permanent account number (PAN) card.
Mukul Rohatgi, the Attorney General was quoted in the reports as saying that "We found a number of PAN cards being used to divert funds to shell companies. To prevent it, the only option is to make Aadhaar mandatory."
The Bench of Justice AK Sikri, and Justice Ashok Bhushan, asked the Attorney General that “Is this the remedy? Forcibly asking people to get Aadhaar cards?”
The court was hearing a petition filed by former Kerala Minister Binoy Viswam, represented by senior advocate Arvind Datar and advocate Sriram Prakkat, challenging the constitutionality of Section 139AA inserted in the Income Tax Act by the Finance Act, 2017.
The Attorney General argued that it was a mandatory requirement under Section 139A of the Income Tax Act to allot PAN and Aadhaar is only being linked to it.
Mr Datar contended that the Aadhaar Act itself does not make obtaining Aadhaar mandatory. “Going by the Attorney General 's logic about fake PANs, I get a PAN card on the basis of showing my Aadhaar as proof. Aadhaar is a basic document along with driving licence. By making Aadhaar mandatory under Section 139AA, my PAN become invalid. This has serious consequences," he said.
In his petition, Mr Viswam, former minister from Kerala, had stated that “Section 139AA of the Income Tax Act, 1961, which makes enrolment for Aadhaar mandatory, without making appropriate amendments to the Aadhaar Act which till date does not prescribe that the enrolment is mandatory, in a Finance Bill was with the intention of avoiding the Rajya Sabha where the ruling party does not have a majority. It is submitted that the said amendment is completely contrary to Article 110 of the Constitution, which defines a Money Bill."
The Modi government had enacted the Aadhaar (Targeted Delivery of Financial and Other Subsidies, Benefits and Services) Act of 2016 as a Money Bill. However, Congress MP and former Union Minister Jairam Ramesh had challenged this enactment in the apex court.
Ever since Finance Minister Arun Jaitly announced to link Aadhaar number with PAN card and mandatory for filing ITR, several people are finding it difficult to link both due to mismatch in data fields. Over the years, PAN cards are known as linked with Income Tax and ITRs and are issued through a verification process. The same cannot be said to be true for Aadhaar as it is the private companies that collect the data, which is never verified or audited by any government agency or authority.
The Supreme Court had time and again restricted use of unique identification (UID) number or Aadhaar to public distribution system (PDS) Scheme, the liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) distribution scheme, the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MGNREGS), National Social Assistance Programme (Old Age Pensions, Widow Pensions, Disability Pensions), Prime Minister's Jan Dhan Yojana (PMJDY) and Employees' Provident Fund Organisation (EPFO). The Supreme Court has repeatedly emphasised that the UID number where permitted “is purely voluntary and it cannot be made mandatory till the matter is finally decided by the Court one way or the other“.
On 15 October 2015, the Constitution Bench of Supreme Court led by the then Chief Justice HL Dattu had ruled that no person shall be deprived of services such as MNREGA, Jan Dhan Yojana, pension and provident fund schemes for want of Aadhaar. The Bench even hinted that the government risked contempt of Court if it chooses to continue to make Aadhaar number a mandatory condition.
Earlier on 23 September 2013, a bench of Justice J Chelameswar, Justice SA Bobde and Justice C Nagappan, without going into concrete examples, had said: "In certain quarters, Aadhaar are being insisted on by various authorities."
"...no person should suffer for not getting the Aadhaar in spite of the fact that some authorities had issued a circular making it mandatory and when any person applies to get the Aadhaar voluntarily, it may be checked whether that person is entitled for it under the law and it should not be given to any illegal immigrant," the apex court had said in its order.
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