Centre extends Aadhaar deadline to 31 Dec as SC defers hearing PILs

30 August 2017

The centre has told the Supreme Court that a deadline for linking of Aadhaar in order to access social welfare benefits had been extended to 31 December, even as the apex court agreed to hear petitions challenging the mandatory Aadhaar programme in the first week of November.

The earlier deadline for complying with the biometric identification programme for obtaining social benefits was set at 30 September.

A bench of Chief Justice Dipak Misra and Justices Amitava Roy and AM Khanwilkar said there was no urgency to hear the matter after senior advocate Shyam Divan, representing various petitioners, sought an early hearing on the batch of petitions.

''The urgency is not there. It will be listed in the first week of November,'' the bench said.

When Divan referred to the deadline of 30 September, Attorney General KK Venugopal told the bench that the Centre would extend the deadline to the last day of December.

''We (centre) will extend it to December 31,'' Venugopal said,

The court, however, is yet to take a decision on attorney general KK Venugopal's plea that a five-judge constitution bench be set up for hearing petitions against Aadhaar-linking.

A smaller bench of the apex court is hearing a total of 22 cases challenging several aspects of the government's Aadhaar programme, including its use and sharing of data collected by private agencies.

Among the challenges are those involving making Aadhaar mandatory for social welfare benefits, infringement of the right to privacy, making Aadhaar mandatory for filing income tax returns, and for obtaining and retaining a permanent account number, or PAN.

The outcome of these pending cases which will be shaped by the judgment on holding privacy as a fundamental right will ultimately determine the fate of the Centre's 12-digit unique identification project, Aadhaar.

On 24 August, a larger constitution bench of the top court deemed privacy to be a fundamental right under the Constitution. Since it is not an absolute right, it led to the recognition of an established standard against which its violation could be tested and proved in a court of law.

Now that there is a standard - the right to privacy is limited only by fair, just and reasonable ''procedure established by law'', the judgement said - the government will have to convince the court that privacy concerns surrounding Aadhaar fulfil the test of reasonable restriction.

Simultaneously, the centre is in the process of drafting a data protection legislation and has appointed an expert group headed by former Supreme Court judge BN Srikrishna.

There are more than 1.17 billion Aadhaar holders in the country.

The batch of petitions challenging various aspects of Aadhaar is likely to be taken up in the first week of November.

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