Aadhaar-PAN link needed to curb black money, Centre tells SC

The government on Tuesday defended in the Supreme Court its decision to make the ''secure and robust'' Aadhaar number mandatory to apply for a Permanent Account Number, and said this was done in the light of the numerous fake PAN cards being used across the country.

The apex court was hearing multiple petitions challenging the Centre's decision to make Aadhaar mandatory for filing income tax returns.

''Aadhaar makes a secure and robust system through which identity of a person cannot be faked,'' attorney general Mukul Rohatgi told the bench of Justices A K Sikri and Ashok Bhushan.

''The Central government is entitled to have identification. As constituents of society people can't claim immunity from identification,'' Rohatgi said, adding, ''no right is absolute' the right to one's body is not absolute. Under extreme cases even the right to life can be taken away under due process.''

Rohatgi also argued that PAN cards are being used for terror financing and circulation of black money. ''Today, you have black money which is being used in drug financing and terror financing. So it was decided to bring in a more robust system by which identity of a person cannot be faked,'' he told the bench.

''It (Aadhaar) is an effective tool to check terror financing and black money. It ensures that money meant for poor people reaches them,'' he said.

Rohatgi told the court that of the 113.7 crore Aadhaar cards issued to date, the government has not found a single case of duplicity. He compared it to the 10 lakh fake PAN cards that have been cancelled by the government. The attorney general also said that the government has saved more than Rs50,000 crore in disbursing subsidies due to the introduction of Aadhaar.

Regarding the collection of biometric data, Rohatgi argued, ''Biometric is classified as sensitive public information. You might want to be forgotten, but the state does not want to forget you. Biometric will not to be shared, unless per procedures laid down under the law. Authorities shall ensure security and confidentiality of data.''

The apex court was hearing three petitions challenging the constitutional validity of Section 139 AA of the Income Tax Act which was introduced through the Budget and the Finance Act 2017. The petitioners, represented by senior counsel Shyam Divan, argued that Section 139AA is unconstitutional and in 'direct collision' with the Aadhaar Act.

Section 139AA provides for mandatory quoting of Aadhaar or enrolment ID of Aadhaar application form for filing of income tax returns and making an application for allotment of PAN number with effect from 1 July this year.

The hearing is likely to continue today.