SC allows voluntary Aadhaar use for 6 more welfare schemes

The Supreme Court on Thursday relaxed its earlier order and allowed the use of Aadhaar card to be extended to six other welfare schemes run by the government, such as rural job guarantee scheme, old age pension, provident fund and Prime Minister's Jan Dhan Yojana, although on a voluntary basis.

The bench decided to review the earlier order after hearing a batch of petitions by the central government and its various agencies seeking relaxation of the order that hampered implementation of some ongoing programmes of the government and its agencies.

A constitution bench comprising Chief Justice HL Dattu and Justices MY Eqbal, C Nagappan, Arun Mishra and Amitava Roy, modified the 11 August order that restricted the use of Aadhaar card to getting foodgrain and kerosene under PDS and for LPG.

"We also make it clear that Aadhaar card scheme is purely voluntary and can't be mandatory till the matter is decided," the court said.

The Indian government introduced the Aadhar card, which uses the unique identity (UID) database, to make direct cash transfers to the poor, in an attempt to cut out frauds who siphon crores of rupees from welfare schemes.

But opponents of the Aadhar card, as represented by senior counsel Shyam Divan, appearing for Karnataka High Court's former judge Justice KS Puttaswamy, however, said that they were opposed to permitting the use of Aadhaar card for getting the foodgrains and kerosene under the PDS and LPG, but the three-judge bench headed by Justice J Chelameswar wanted to strike a balance and permitted this and "we have to live with it"."

"We sought total prohibition. Attorney general wanted no prohibition (on linking Aadhaar card with different schemes), the court balancing the interest allowed the use of Aadhaar number for PDS and LPG," he said.

"Making this exception for the PDS was wrong and ought not to have been done... it has been tried and failed," Divan told the court, arguing that once accessing things linking with Aadhaar card number gets entrenched in the system, then it would be irreversible.

At this Chief Justice Dattu said, "I am also a citizen of this country. I want to use my (Aadhaar) card for getting facilities. Can you say that I can't use it?"

In response, senior counsel Gopal Subramaniam said, "Even if you consciously know the dangers of parting with information for getting Aadhaar card and yet you opt for it then the state has to step in.''

Attorney general Mukul Rohatgi assured the court that citizens who do not possess an Aadhaar card would be allowed to produce alternate ID proofs to avail of social welfare, pension and PF schemes.

The CJI also said an appropriate bench would be constituted at the earliest for the final disposal of petitions that also include the question as to whether the right to privacy is a fundamental right. A batch of petitions have challenged the Aadhaar scheme on the ground that collection of biometric details violates a citizen's privacy rights.

The matter could be referred to a larger nine or 11-judge bench. Smaller benches of the top court have earlier passed conflicting judgments on whether privacy was a fundamental right.