Centre urges SC to shift Aadhaar petition to constitution bench

Business Standard, 22 July 2015

Govt argues that stakes are high as about 80 crore of 120 crore people already brought under the scheme

The Centre on Tuesday urged a Supreme Court Bench hearing the Aadhaar case to refer it to a Constitution Bench as several petitioners opposing the unique identity scheme have raised substantial questions of constitutional importance.

Attorney-General Mukul Rohtagi submitted that 800 million people have come under the scheme and that it has reached the point of no return. There are high stakes for all because if the scheme is held unconstitutional, a whole lot of welfare schemes will have to be scrapped. Even the Supreme Court had recognised the scheme in judgments involving public distribution schemes and irregularities in examinations. As there are far-reaching consequences, if the scheme is declared illegal, the issues should be decided by a Constitution Bench consisting at least five judges.

The three-judge Bench  stated the request would be taken up on Wednesday after examining the judgments produced by senior counsel K K Venugopal, representing the Centre for Civil Society, which supports Aadhaar.

On Tuesday, the Supreme Court started hearing petitions moved two years ago. In its earlier orders, the court had passed interim orders asking authorities not to insist on Aadhaar cards to give any government benefits. However, the petitioners argue this is ignored by government authorities, apart  from banks and other establishments.

The petitioners, led by counsel Shyam Divan, assailed the scheme as it has no statutory backing and it was based merely on an executive order. A Bill to legalise it is in the Rajya Sabha, although a committee has suggested several modifications in the scheme. Divan said there was an element of coercion in demanding information from individuals without letting them know of the consequences.

The information collected by the government could be obtained by private parties and misused commercially and criminally. Every aspect of life, from birth to death, would be under surveillance, which is a violation of the fundamental right to privacy, Divan said.

He opposed the suggestion of the Attorney General to refer the issues to a Constitution bench because no large issues are involved. The crucial question is whether such a scheme could be enforced administratively, through an executive order. This is a simple legal issue, not involving any Constitutional complications, he argued.

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