Fresh plea in SC against linking mobile nos, bank a/cs with Aadhaar

As telecom service firms and banks hound their customers for providing Aadhaar data before the 31 December deadline set by the government, a fresh petition has been filed in the Supreme Court challenging this directive.

A March 2017 circular issued by the Department of Telecommunication that requires linking of mobile phone numbers with Aadhaar, following which telecom companies have been bombarding customers with alerts and calls to comply or face disconnection.

The same is the case with banks, where account holders have been directed to furnish Aadhaar number and Permanent Account Number (PAN) before the deadline or risk rendering the accounts inoperative indefinitely.

According to the petition filed by feminist researcher and activist Dr Kalyani Menon Sen, the government's rule on linking Aadhaar violates the fundamental right to privacy and equates citizens, including the elderly, women and students, with money launderers.

"Non-compliance incurs the same liability as Section 5 of the Prevention of Money Laundering Act (for involvement in money laundering), that is rendering the concerned bank account inoperational. Present and potential bank account holders who do not wish to part with their biometric information are therefore treated on par with alleged offenders under the Prevention of Money Laundering Act (PMLA)," said Menon's petition.

''It is submitted that the impugned circular also violates the fundamental rights and constitutional rights of persons, by requiring any mobile subscriber to link their mobile phone number with Aadhaar number as part of e-KYC (Know Your Customer) requirement,'' the petition said.

Menon said there is no justification provided by the government for requiring Aadhaar as the sole identifying proof without providing any alternative.

Her petition also challenged Rule 2(b) of the Prevention of Money Laundering (Maintenance of Records) Second Amendment Rules, 2017.

As per the provision, submission of Aadhaar number has been made mandatory for individual account holders, companies, partnership firms and trusts for opening of bank accounts, maintaining existing bank accounts and making any financial transactions of and above Rs50,000

''The impugned provision is in violation of Article 300A of the Constitution. The Constitution protects the right to not be deprived of property without due process of law. Rendering bank accounts inoperational without the authority of law is a violation of this constitutional right,'' the petition said.

Provisions regarding both bank accounts and mobile phones have created an "impermissible artificial distinction" between those who have parted with their private biometric information and those who have not, the petition said.

It also said the mobile phone requirement is violative of Article 300A of the Constitution and Aadhaar Act 2016. While the former protects a person's right to not be deprived of property, the latter limits the purpose of the Aadhaar number to receipt of a public subsidy, benefit or a service, the petition said.

"A bank account and mobile phone connection is the personal property of an individual. There exist numerous, less invasive and less disruptive methods of verifying the identity of account holders," said Menon.