Constitution bench formed to hear all pleas against Aadhaar

The Supreme Court on Monday decided to set up a five-judge constitution bench to hear a clutch of petitions challenging the Centre's decision to make Aadhaar mandatory for a host of private services like mobile telephony and banking apart from government welfare schemes.

The petitions have termed the Aadhaar Act of 2016 as unconstitutional and contrary to the concept of limited and accountable governance.

A bench comprising Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra and Justices A M Khanwilkar and D Y Chandrachud said the larger bench would commence hearing on these petitions in the last week of November.

The constitution bench is also expected to hear veteran Congress leader Jairam Ramesh's plea challenging the government decision to turn Aadhar act into money bill.

Ramesh, represented by former finance minister and now practicing advocate P Chidambaram, had alleged in September that just to bypass the Rajya Sabha, the government had decided to put Aadhar law as a finance bill.

Recently, a nine-judge constitution bench had held that the right to privacy was a fundamental right under the Constitution. Several petitioners challenging the validity of Aadhaar had raised the issue that the scheme violated privacy.

Senior advocates Gopal Subramanium and Shyam Divan, appearing for those opposing the Aadhaar scheme, had sought urgent hearing on the petitions.

The court took the step after Attorney General K K Venugopal said falsehoods have been spread about Aadhaar linking, including how Aadhaar is a must for CBSE students to appear for their Class 10 and 12 exams.

Venugopal said the government is ready to argue and the court, if it deems fit, should set up a constitution bench to decide, once and for all, the various Aadhaar challenges pending before the apex court since 2014 instead of passing any interim orders.

Earlier today, the apex court questioned the West Bengal government for filing a plea challenging the Centre's move to make Aadhaar mandatory for availing benefits of various social welfare schemes, asking how a state could challenge the mandate of Parliament. It asked West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee to file the plea as an individual.

On last week's proposal to extend the date for the mandatory linking of Aadhaar with mobile phones, bank accounts and various welfare schemes from 31 December 2017 to 31 March 2018, Venugopal had conveyed to the court this decision of the government during an urgent mentioning by petitioners.

Earlier, a five-judge bench had found it necessary to first decide whether privacy was a fundamental right or not before hearing the Aadhaar petitions. It had referred the legal question to a nine-judge bench, which came out with the historic judgment in favour of the common man's fundamental right to privacy and against state intrusions.

The nine-judge bench verdict has a crucial bearing in the Aadhaar petitions, which have argued that Aadhaar's use of biometric details like fingerprints and iris scans violate bodily and informational privacy.

The petitioners argue that mandatory requirement of Aadhaar for these schemes ''constrict rights and freedoms which a citizen has long been enjoying unless and until they part with their personal biometric information to the government''.

Divan, appearing for some of the petitioners, had earlier contended that final hearing in the main Aadhaar matter, which is pending before the apex court, was necessary as the government "cannot compel" citizens to link their Aadhaar with either bank accounts or mobile numbers.

The Aadhar (Targeted Delivery of Financial and Other Subsidies, Benefits and Services) Bill 2016 was passed in the Lok Sabha on 11 March after Union Finance Minister Arun Jaitley moved the bill for consideration.