Aadhaar made compulsory for MNREGA & EPS, (in violation of Supreme Court order)?

In what could very well be another snow ball into a major controversy, the Central government, through the Ministry of Rural Development and Ministry of Labour and Employment, has issued notifications making an Aadhaar number compulsory for:

i) Those registered under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act, 2005 (MNREGA).

ii) Those desirous of continuing to avail pension and membership to the Employees’ Pension Scheme (EPS).

This was announced vide two separate notifications issued on January 3 and January 4 this year. The January 3 notification issued by the Ministry of Rural Development deals with MREGA and states the following:

“… individuals registered under the Mahatma Gandhi NREGA are hereby required to furnish proof of possession of Aadhaar or undergo Aadhaar authentication.”

The notification further provides that any person registered under MNREGA who is not yet enrolled for Aadhaar will have to apply for Aadhaar by March 31.

“(2) Any individual registered under the Mahatma Gandhi NREGA who is not yet enrolled for Aadhaar shall have to apply for Aadhaar enrolment by 31st March, 2017, and in case she or he is entitled to obtain Aadhaar as per the provisions of section 3 of the said Act, such individuals may visit any Aadhaar enrolment centre (list available at (www.uidai.gov.in) to get enrolled for Aadhaar.”

The January 4 notification issued by the Ministry of Labour and Employment deals with EPS scheme and states the following:

“Members and pensioners of the Employees’ Pension Scheme desirous of continuing to avail pension and membership to the Employees’ Pension Scheme by availing the Central Government’s contribution and subsidy under the said Scheme, are hereby required to furnish proof of the possession of the Aadhaar number or undergo Aadhaar authentication as per the procedure laid down by the Employees Provident Fund Organisation for better and hassle free identification through Aadhaar.”

The deadline for applying for Aadhaar with respect to EPS is January 31.

What is noteworthy in this context are two interim orders passed by the Supreme Court on August 11, 2015 and October 10, 2015.

The order of August 11, 2015 states that obtaining Aadhaar shall not be mandatory. It states the following:

“1. The Union of India shall give wide publicity in the electronic and print media including radio and television networks that it is not mandatory for a citizen to obtain an Aadhaar card;

2. The production of an Aadhaar card will not be condition for obtaining any benefits otherwise due to a citizen;”

However, the order also clarifies that Aadhaar can be “used” by the Centre for PDS scheme and LPG distribution scheme.

“The Unique Identification Number or the Aadhaar card will not be used by the respondents for any purpose other than the PDS Scheme and in particular for the purpose of distribution of foodgrains, etc. and cooking fuel, such as kerosene. The Aadhaar card may also be used for the purpose of the LPG Distribution Scheme.”

This interim order of August 8 was subsequently modified by another order passed on October 10. This was pursuant to an application filed by the Centre seeking permission to use Aadhaar for more schemes.

The Court had allowed Centre’s plea and extended the permission to use Aadhar for MNREGA, Employees Provident Fund (under which EPS schemes are framed), National Social Assistance Programme (Old Age Pensions, Widow Pensions, Disability Pensions) and Prime Minister’s Jan Dhan Yojana.

However, both the orders, though giving permission to the Centre to use Aadhaar details for the exempted schemes, do not talk about permission to make it mandatory. In fact, both the orders spell out that Aadhaar is a voluntary scheme and it cannot be made mandatory till the matter is finally decided by the Supreme Court.

Interestingly, the matter was mentioned yesterday before Chief Justice Khehar by one of the petitioners through Senior Advocate Shyam Divan. Divan sought an early hearing in the matter citing one of the earlier orders passed by the court which had mentioned that there is urgency in the matter, and a Bench should be constituted for final hearing at the earliest.

However, the court yesterday brushed aside the same and declined this request for the time being.