Chief Justice HL Dattu has set up a five-member Bench headed by him to go into the constitutional validity and usage of Aadhaar. The other members of the Bench are: Justices MY Eqbal, C Nagappan, Arun Mishra and Amitava Roy.
The Constitution Bench will have its first sitting on October 14 to take up a batch of PILs by retired high court judge KS Puttaswamy and others challenging the collection of people’s biometrics such as finger prints and iris for enrolling them under the Aadhaar scheme.
It will also consider pleas for enlarging the scope of Aadhaar for using the card for payment of wages under the employment guarantee scheme (MNREGA) and old age pension, issue of SIM cards to cell phone users and share certificates to investors and for banking and insurance transactions.
The government, statutory bodies and their agencies have contended that wider use of Aadhaar was necessary to fight black money and terrorism and prevent the misuse and diversion of huge funds earmarked for MNREGA and other welfare schemes meant for the poor and the middle class.
On the other hand, the petitioners have pleaded that people could not be forced to disclose their biometrics that too to private companies, some of them based abroad. The companies were selected by the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI), set up by an official order without any statutory backing, for the Aadhaar scheme.
Collection of biometrics without explaining to the people about its possible misuse to snoop on them and other consequences was in violation their fundamental right to privacy, they have pleaded.Rejecting this contention, the government maintained that privacy was not a fundamental right and none of the welfare schemes meant could be successful unless it was allowed to use Aadhaar for their implementation.
The unique number on each Aadhaar card and the biometrics data would eliminate bogus and ghost claimants to benefits under the welfare schemes, the government has contended.On August 11, a 3-member Bench headed by Justice J Chelameswar passed an interim order restricting the use of Aadhaar for providing subsidy on foodgrains and kerosene sold through the public distribution system (PDS) and on cooking gas (LPG).
This Bench subsequently rejected pleas for enlarging the scope of Aadhaar, observing that it was not in a position to entertain pleas for relaxing the curbs as it had already referred the PILs to a larger Bench for deciding the card’s on the basis of right to privacy.
Upon this, the government and others approached the CJI pleading for immediate formation of the Constitution Bench to at least go into the plea for easing the curbs on an urgent basis in the interest of 96 crore people who had opted for Aadhaar.