The Supreme Court on Monday turned down a plea demanding an urgent hearing of the case challenging the legality of Aadhaar, the government’s Unique Identity project. A bench headed by Chief Justice of India JS Khehar refused the plea from Senior Advocate Shyam Divan for a Constitution bench to be set up immediately, according to Bar & Bench. The court said that the case is already before Justice J Chelameshwar, who is expected to hear several constitutional matters including the Aadhaar petitions, and declined to intervene.
Several news organisations, including PTI, reported that the bench also asserted that Aadhaar cannot be mandatory for welfare schemes – as established in previous interim orders by the Supreme Court. Reports also suggested that the bench said its earlier orders, which say Aadhaar cannot be mandatory, do not apply to non-welfare programmes, such as opening bank accounts.
Petitioners in the case, however, claimed that this was simply a discussion between the bench and Senior Advocate Diwan with no specific orders passed. Ultimately, the court did not pronounce any order, choosing instead to leave the case to Justice Chelameshwar.
The Supreme Court had in October 2015 ordered that the government cannot make Aadhaar mandatory for welfare schemes until the case looking into its legality has been decided. The government has nevertheless been expanding the scope of the Unique Identity project over the past few months, making it mandatory for initiatives such as the midday meal scheme of school lunches for children, and, most recently, requiring Aadhaar to file income tax returns.