SC permits voluntary use of Aadhaar card in welfare schemes

In a reprieve to the Modi Government, the Supreme Court, on 15th October, 2015, permitted the voluntary use of Aadhaar cards in welfare schemes, including MGNREGA, all kinds of pension schemes and the provident fund, besides ambitious flagship programmes like Pradhan Mantri Jan Dhan Yojna of the NDA Government.

The social welfare schemes, aimed at reaching out to the needy, were in addition to the LPG and PDS schemes in which the Apex Court had announced the voluntary use of Aadhaar cards on 11th August, 2015.

A Constitution Bench headed by Chief Justice H L Dattu had modified the order following a fervent plea by Attorney General Mukul Rohatgi, who represented the Centre.

Rohatgi had said, “Aadhaar was essentially for good governance, transparent implementation of Government programmes and ensuring that its benefits reach only eligible persons. The Government must ensure that the venture doesn’t go in vain.”

A five-Judge Bench headed by Chief Justice H L Dattu also put a rider in its interim order for the Centre and said, “We also want to make it clear that the Aadhaar card scheme is purely voluntary and not mandatory till the matter is finally decided by this Court.”

The Court was hearing Public Interest Litigations (PILs) filed by former High Court Judge Justice Puttaswamy and the NGO, Society for Civil Rights. While challenging the constitutional validity of the scheme, they raised the issue of the right to withhold personal information and intrusion into the right to privacy by the state.

Two of the interveners in the case, Reetika Khera, an Economics Professor at IIT Delhi, and Sahana Manjesh, a lawyer, contended that biometric identification denoted for the UID, namely the iris scan and finger print identification, could easily be misused.

The Bench, while including the four other schemes along with LPG and PDS where Aadhaar could be used, said, “The Constitution Bench, which also included Justices M Y Eqbal, C Nagappan, Arun Mishra and Amitava Roy, was set up only for the purpose of deciding upon applications filed by the Centre and bodies like RBI, SEBI, IRDA, TRAI, the Pension Fund Regulatory Authority and states like Gujarat and Jharkhand seeking modification of the August 11 order.”