NEW DELHI(PTI): There is “no question” of extending the June 30 deadline for making Aadhaar mandatory for availing benefits of various social welfare schemes, the Centre today told the Supreme Court.
Attorney General Mukul Rohatgi told the apex court that the idea behind making Aadhaar mandatory for welfare schemes was that the benefit should not go to “ghosts” as was noticed in schemes like the public distribution system (PDS). He also raised preliminary objection to the plea seeking interim relief and challenging various notifications issued by the Centre and told a bench, comprising Justices A M Khanwilkar and Navin Sinha, that this matter should be listed for hearing before a five-judge constitution bench.
Rohatgi said that earlier, some pleas seeking identical interim relief were also filed and those matters were pending before the apex court. The bench said it would be appropriate to hear all these pleas seeking interim relief together to “avoid multiplicity” and fixed the matter for hearing on June 27.
When the bench was considering whether to list the matter for hearing during the summer vacation, senior advocate Shyam Divan, appearing for the petitioner, said there was urgency involved in it and if the matter was not heard before June 30, “the other way was if they (Centre) extend the deadline”. “There is no question of that,” Rohatgi said.
The court, which directed that all these pleas seeking interim relief should be listed before it on June 27, allowed the Centre to file a counter to the plea within three weeks. “Our attention was invited to (this) … that the applications filed in other writ petitions pending in this court may involve similar issues which will have to be considered…In our opinion, it is appropriate to hear these applications, having overlapping issues, together to avoid multiplicity of hearing on the same subject matter,” it said.
At the outset, Rohatgi said identical interim relief were sought in a plea filed around six months ago in the apex court and it was tagged with the main petition which would be heard by a constitution bench. “There are batch of pleas in this matter. In the first round, a bench of three-judges heard the matter. Thereafter, when the Centre was seeking some modification on the order passed by the court, the matter was listed before a five-judge bench. Now, no other bench except the constitution bench can take up this matter,” he said. “This is like an ambush which is going on here. They (petitioner) cannot do this,” he said.
Divan said that on May 12, he had mentioned the matter before a bench headed by Chief Justice J S Khehar which had said it would be listed before an appropriate bench. Regarding Rohatgi’s submission, he said that after the pleas were filed earlier, the Centre had subsequently issued a series of notifications making Aadhaar mandatory for schemes.
Referring to the five-judge bench order, Divan said it was specifically said that “Aadhaar is voluntary and it cannot be made compulsory and they cannot coerce people to give their biometrics”. “The five-judge bench order says the entire process has to be voluntary. One expects that the State will respect the order of this court. The bench had said that no person can be deprived of these schemes for want of Aadhaar,” he said.
Divan said the entire architecture of Aadhaar was to put the citizens under “surveillance” and dominate them. However, the bench asked “why this second petition when you have already filed a plea earlier seeking similar relief”. Divan said the petition for interim relief were not listed for hearing before the court by the apex court registry.
When the court asked Divan whether the orders passed by the three-judge and five-judge bench earlier were not serving the purpose, the senior counsel replied “they (Centre) are violating those orders”. Countering the submissions, Rohatgi said, “there was no injunction against Parliament. I cannot asked Parliament not to make a law”. The Attorney General said that a total of 115 crore Aadhaar cards have been issued till date and “the idea behind all these benefits was that it should not go to ghosts. Leaks were happening in schemes like PDS”.
He said if a person does not have Aadhaar till June 30, he can get himself enrolled for it and enrolment slips and slips of request made for it would also serve the purpose. When the bench told Rohatgi that the government had made a statement that information of Aadhaar will not be shared with any one, the Attorney General said, “we are not sharing it with anyone”. However, Divan referred to the government notifications making Aadhaar mandatory for availing benefits of schemes like scholarships, Right to Food and mid-day meal in schools.
Several petitions challenging the constitutional validity of Aadhaar are pending in the apex court and would be heard by a five-judge constitution bench, which is yet to be set up by the Chief Justice. Earlier, the Supreme Court had passed a slew of orders asking the government and its agencies not to make Aadhaar mandatory for extending benefits of their welfare schemes. The apex court, however, had allowed the Centre to seek Aadhaar card voluntarily from citizens fro extending benefits of schemes like LPG subsidy, Jan Dhan scheme and Public Distribution System etc.