NEW DELHI: The Centre on Tuesday came to the Supreme Court along with several important organizations and made an impassioned plea for permitting voluntary use of Aadhaar cards held by 90 crore citizens to accurately identify beneficiaries for welfare schemes.
They wanted modification of the SC’s August 11 interim order limiting the use of Aadhaar card only for LPG subsidy and ration through public distribution system. A bench of Justices J Chelameswar, S A Bobde and C Nagappan will pronounce its decision on Wednesday.
Supporting the Centre was an NGO, ‘Centre for Civil Society’, which through senior advocate K K Venugopal said if citizens did not want their privacy protected while availing benefits under the welfare schemes by using Aadhaar, could the SC stop them from using the card and make them go through a cumbersome alternative to avail the benefits.
The Centre, through attorney general Mukul Rohatgi, brought up old widows waiting for completion of complicated identification process to get pension benefits to poor daily wagers who have to travel long distances to withdraw money earned through MNREGA. “Why should a retired judge (petitioner) and a few others stall the easy method for giving benefit due to 50 crore citizens?” he asked.
“We are not snooping in anyone’s bedroom. We have devised a method to ensure that the benefits reach the target group. In the last one year, we have saved up to Rs 20,000 crore by using Aadhaar card to eliminate ghost beneficiaries who earlier used to drain the resources,” the AG said.
“Either I had not understood the Aadhaar card’s significance properly or I had not been able to explain it properly which led to the court limiting its use to only LPG subsidy and PDS. But that should not be an issue as the unique identification number is held by more than 90 crore people and the court should not prevent voluntary use of this number by citizens to benefit under welfare schemes,” Rohatgi said.
Supporting the Centre’s stand were Reserve Bank of India, Pension Fund Regulatory and Development Authority, Telecom Regulatory Authority of India, market regulator SEBI, Insurance Regulatory and Development Authority along with Himachal Pradesh government and some other states.
All of them told the court in unison that by using Aadhaar, they had devised a simpler single-window system for identification of customers, grant of loans, insurance cover and opening of bank accounts. “Should all these be stopped and citizens be asked to go through cumbersome process for getting the benefits of welfare schemes?” they asked.
But petitioners’ counsel, senior advocates Shyam Divan and Meenakshi Arora, said the government had deliberately created a situation to make Aadhaar containing biometric details of citizens mandatory for every scheme without any statutory backing.
They said citizens have not been informed that their private details were being handled by foreign firms and were open to misuse. “The argument that Aadhaar is foolproof identification method is nothing but a tall claim. It has been proved that both fingerprints and iris imprints of eyes can be manipulated,” they said.