Challenging Aadhaar-PAN link should be in MPs' domain: SC

The Supreme Court, apparently unwilling to interfere in the linking of PAN cards with Aadhaar numbers, on Wednesday wondered why there was no objection from lawmakers on the government's move to make Aadhaar mandatory for issuing PAN cards, which was given effect in the Union budget from 1 July.

"There are 542 persons sitting in Parliament, why do they not object to it? If they are not objecting on it, why should we go into it?" a bench comprising Justices A K Sikri and Ashok Bhushan said.

When it was told that the Centre has earlier made a statement in the apex court that they would not make Aadhaar mandatory, the bench said, "They cannot be bound by it. It cannot preclude Parliament from enacting a statutory provision."

The apex court was hearing three petitions challenging the constitutional validity of Section 139AA of the Income Tax Act, introduced through the Union  Budget and the Finance Act 2017. It provides for mandatory quoting of Aadhaar or enrolment ID of Aadhaar application form for filing income tax returns or applying for allotment of a PAN number.

During the hearing, the bench also observed that it was a ''shame'' that people did not want to pay taxes.

The top court said there was no doubt that Aadhaar should be voluntary and observed that since tax evasion existed, the government could bring in new statute to stop such "leakage."

"We know that tax evasion is there. When tax evasion is there, the government is trying to block these leakages by bringing a new statute. We citizens are like that. It is a shame that we do not want to pay tax," the bench said.

Defending the Centre's stand to make Aadhaar mandatory for filing of Income tax returns and to apply for PAN, Attorney General Mukul Rohatgi mentioned that there were around 10 lakh fake Permanent Account Number (PAN) cards in the country and said Aadhaar was the only system which could prevent duplication or fake cards.

"We have reached to 99 per cent of India's population. We are not at a nascent stage," he told the bench and questioned the maintainability of these writ petitions saying they have not raised the issue of violation of privacy.

Senior advocate Arvind Datar, appearing for a petitioner, told the bench that Section 139AA was not part of the original Finance Bill and was introduced at the last moment.

He referred to the Aadhaar Act and said there was not a single word saying that the intention behind the statute was to check the black money and weed out fake PAN cards.

To this, the bench said, "The purpose of the Aadhaar Act is different from that of section 139AA of the IT Act. Therefore, validity of Section 139AA cannot be seen at the touchstone of what is there in the Aadhaar Act."

"It (Aadhaar) is voluntary, there is no doubt about it," the apex court said, adding, "Today, we are dealing with a statutory provision which is enacted by Parliament".

The bench will continue hearing the arguments on Thursday.