New Delhi: In a reprieve for the Central government, the Supreme Court on Friday refrained from staying various notifications issued under the Aadhaar Act to make unique identity number mandatory for several social welfare schemes.
A two-judge bench led by Justice A M Khanwilkar said that the court would not want to deal with the issue in piecemeal and would examine all applications against Aadhaar on June 27
“It is appropriate if we hear all interlocutory applications together…they may involve same or similar issues,” said the bench while deferring the hearing of a plea made in a PIL filed by Shantha Sinha. Sinha is former chairperson of the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights.
The court also recorded preliminary objections raised by Attorney General Mukul Rohatgi that a previous order in a batch of cases on Aadhaar was issued by a five-judge Constitution Bench and therefore, only a Constitution Bench could now examine the plea for interim relief.
Rohatgi, on his part, also made it clear that the government was not going to extend the deadline of June 30 by which various schemes such as grant of scholarships, Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan and various other social welfare schemes were to seek mandatory Aadhaar number.
“Today, we have 120 crore people who have Aadhaar cards but they are not here. The people who are supposed to be benefited by these schemes are not before the court but those who are not going to be affected by all, keep filing petitions after petitions,” rued the AG.
He complained that there was a similar PIL filed last year with same prayers but the apex court did not grant any interim relief. “Can they go on filing petitions after petitions which have even the same text? I can show that paragraphs in this petition are true copies of what was there in the last petition on the subject. This is abuse of the process of the court,” added Rohatgi, citing a petition moved by Lt Col (retd) S G Vombatkere in October 2016.
Senior lawyer Shyam Divan, appearing for Sinha, replied that the previous petition might have similar prayers but the subject matter of the present PIL was entirely different. “These notifications were not issued when the previous petition was filed. We have come with fresh cause of actions. Besides, technicality should the last thing to be argued by the AG when we are claiming violation of fundamental rights. The court had in 2015 asked the government not to make Aadhaar mandatory and they are now in breach. The AG should not shy away from replying on merit,” said Divan.
“I am not shying away…I have fought these cases 20 times,” retorted Rohatgi, adding that Aadhaar was merely an executive scheme when the restraint orders were passed but now the Parliament has passed a law. “There cannot be any injunction against the Parliament from passing a law,” said the AG, adding that only a Constitution Bench should hear the matter.
Divan said that it was not proper to make a PIL petitioner run from one court to another on technical grounds and deny a hearing altogether. But Rohatgi responded that he was called at 2 am by the court which had decided to open its doors to allow a predawn hearing for 1993 Mumbai serial blasts convict Yakub Memon.
The bench also reacted: “Mr Divan! Please don’t say that this court is not available for common citizens. This court is always available for them.” It then adjourned the matter to June 27, saying the court registry, after suitable instructions from the Chief Justice of India, will place this case before an appropriate bench.
Another bench in the top court had recently reserved its verdict on yet another challenge to linking Aadhaar with PAN cards and for filing Income-Tax returns. Newly inserted provisions in the Finance Act make it mandatory for people to have Aadhaar for validating their PAN cards and for I-T returns. The deadline to link Aadhaar for this purpose is June 30.