Notification on extending Aadhaar linking deadline tomorrow
Extension to cover 139 services; may include mandatory linking of Aadhaar with bank accounts
NEW DELHI, DEC 7:
The Attorney-General of India K.K. Venugopal on Thursday submitted before the Supreme Court that the government will issue a notification tomorrow extending the deadline for mandatory Aadhaar linking from December 31, 2017 to March 31, 2018.
This extension will include 139 services for which the deadline for linking is currently December 31, 2017. The extension, would in all likelihood, include the mandatory linkage of Aadhaar with bank accounts. So far, private citizens run the risk of being locked out of access to their own bank accounts if they do not link them with Aadhaar by December 31.
Venugopal apprised the Bench led by Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra that the extension, however, does not include linking of mobile phones with Aadhaar. The deadline for this is February 6, 2018. He said it would require a judicial order from the Supreme Court itself to extend the deadline to March 31, 2018. This is because the government is complying with a February 6, 2017 order of the Supreme Court in the Lok Niti Foundation case to tighten up verification process of mobile phone users through Aadhaar linkage, citing national security.
The submissions from the Centre's top law officer came on an urgent mentioning made by advocates P.B. Suresh and Vipin Nair, joined by senior advocate Shyam Divan, for petitioners for an early hearing of their batch of petitions challenging the constitutionality of the Aadhaar scheme.
STATUS OF EXISTING AADHAAR HOLDERS
Chief Justice Dipak Misra orally assured them that a Constitution Bench would hear them next week on the question of providing interlocutory reliefs. The Chief Justice indicated that it would be left to the Constitution Bench to give dates for the final hearing of the Aadhaar petitions. Divan has pressed for dates in the first or second week of January 2018, immediately after Christmas holidays.
Divan submitted that the government should assure that no coercive steps would be taken by the government or its agencies on Aadhaar holders till the Supreme Court takes a final decision on the validity of the Aadhaar scheme. "If that is the case, nobody will produce it (Aadhaar). We have said that those with Aadhaar do not mind producing their Aadhaar," Venugopal submitted.
Divan said the government's stand is increasingly ambiguous on the plight of existing Aadhaar holders who do not want to link their Aadhaar. He urged the court to address this issue immediately next week. Venugopal said the government was equally ready to argue the point.
So, the focus of the hearing next week may likely be on the status of existing Aadhaar holders and whether the extension of the deadline would in effect confine to non-Aadhaar holders only.
Advocate Zoheb Hossain, who assists Venugopal, explained that there are "different regimes". That is, the government presumes that existing Aadhaar holders would not mind linking their bank accounts. Moreover, banks may even insist on Aadhaar for opening a new account, and existing Aadhaar holders would have to produce the document.
DATA PROTECTION PANEL REPORT
Venugopal also said the Data Protection Committee led by Justice Sri Krishna would submit its final report on sprucing up the Aadhaar Act to make it safe from data theft by February 2018. The Aadhaar petitions have been hanging in limbo in the Supreme Court since 2014.
Today's mentioning immediately follows a Constitution Bench wrapping up the Centre-Delhi government power tussle over the administration of the National Capital. The petitions have been challenged Aadhaar as a violation of the fundamental right to privacy.
In October, the Centre had joined forces with Mr. Divan for an early hearing of the Aadhaar cases. Mr. Venugopal had said that Bench falsehoods have been spread about Aadhaar linking, including how Aadhaar is a must for CBSE students to appear in ther Class 10 and 12 exams.
Venugopal had said a Constitution Bench may be set up to decide all the Aadhaar issues once and for all.
The decision to set up a Constitution Bench comes despite Justice Rohinton Nariman's separate judgment in the nine-judge Bench declaring right to privacy as a fundamental right. Justice Nariman's judgment had directed the Aadhaar petitions to be posted for hearing before the "original" three-judge Bench.
This 'original' Bench led by Justice J. Chelameswar had referred the petitions for hearing before a five-judge Bench. The five-judge had found it necessary to first decide whether privacy was a fundamental right or not before hearing the Aadhaar petitions. It had referred the legal question to a nine-judge Bench, which came out with the historic judgment in favour of the common man's fundamental right to privacy against State intrusions.
The nine-judge Bench verdict has a crucial bearing in the Aadhaar petitions, which have argued that Aadhaar's use of biometric details like fingerprints and iris scans violate bodily and informational privacy.
The petitioners argue that mandatory requirement of Aadhaar for these schemes "constrict rights and freedoms which a citizen has long been enjoying unless and until they part with their personal biometric information to the government".
The petitions have termed the Aadhaar Act of 2016 as unconstitutional and contrary to concept of limited and accountable governance. Eom