SC constitution bench likely to hear Aadhaar case this week

New Delhi: A five-judge constitution bench of the Supreme Court is likely to hear the Aadhaar case this week.

The petitioners in the case had challenged the unique identification (UID) number on the grounds that the move to collect information from individuals and sharing such data is a violation of the right to privacy, especially in the absence of any backing regulation.

The top court, in a 22 January notification, listed seven cases to be taken up by constitution bench (five-judges or more) from 27 January. One of them is regarding the constitutional validity of the unique identification scheme.

The exercise is a part of chief justice T.S. Thakur’s effort to clear pendency of cases, especially those that require interpretation of the Constitution. Constitution bench hearings are scheduled on Mondays and Fridays between 2p.m.-4p.m.

Aadhaar was conceived by the erstwhile Planning Commission, through a notification in January 2009, as an initiative that would provide a unique identity number for each resident of India and be used primarily as the basis for efficient delivery of welfare services.

The government has contended in the court that right to privacy is not a fundamental right under the Constitution.

The ruling on the case will have a bearing on important digital initiatives of the government such as biometric attendance, Jan Dhan Yojana, digital certificates, pension payments and the proposed introduction of payments banks. The success of all these initiatives hinges on the validity of the Aadhaar scheme.

On 11 August, a three-judge bench comprising justices J. Chelameswar, S.A. Bobde and C. Nagappan restricted the use of Aadhaar to identifying beneficiaries of the public distribution system and subsidies on cooking gas and kerosene.

The same order also referred to a constitution bench for consideration. Subsequently, on 15 October, a five judge-bench comprising former chief justice H.L Dattu and justices M.Y Eqbal, C. Nagappan, Arun Mishra and Amitava Roy allowed the use of the Aadhaar number for the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme, Pradhan Mantri Jan Dhan Yojana, pensions by central and state governments, and the Employees’ Provident Fund Scheme, in addition to its current use in the public distribution system (PDS) and the distribution of cooking gas and kerosene.

After 27 January, the court will also hear a curative writ petition filed by the government in 2010 seeking a review of the court’s judgment in the 1984 Bhopal gas tragedy case.

The government had asked for an increase in compensation granted to victims from Rs.750 crore to Rs.7,700 crore. The government has claimed that the terms of the court settlement in 1989 had severely underestimated the number of dead and injured as a result of the tragedy.