The Supreme Court on Friday questioned the Centre for making the Aadhaar card mandatory for a number of central schemes despite its repeated orders that the unique identification programme cannot be made mandatory. “How can you make Aadhaar card mandatory when we have passed an order to make it optional?” the bench asked.
The apex court made the statement while hearing a PIL filed by former Kerala Minister Binoy Viswam, challenging the government’s move to amend the Income Tax Act through the Finance Act, 2017. The amendment makes the unique identification number compulsory to obtain a Permanent Account Number card, for existing PAN cards to remain valid and to submit income tax returns.
The bench of Justice AK Sikri and Justice Ashok Bhushan questioned the logic behind making Aadhaar mandatory to file income tax returns. Attorney General Mukul Rohatgi argued that the Centre made the decision after finding that PAN cards were being used to divert funds to shell companies, The Hindu reported. To this, the court said, “Is making Aadhaar compulsory by force the only way to tackle fraud?”
In March, the court had asserted that Aadhaar cannot be made mandatory for welfare schemes – as established in previous interim orders. This was after the bench had reminded the Centre in August 2015 that Aadhaar must be voluntary. On October 10, 2015, the government had moved the top court seeking permission to use the ID for a few schemes, but the court had reiterated its stand and said that its use must be “purely voluntary.”
The apex court took up the matter again in September 2016 – after Parliament had passed a controversial Aadhaar Bill – to reiterate that Aadhaar could not be made mandatory until the five-judge bench disposed of the case.
The government has nevertheless been expanding the scope of the Unique Identity project over the past few months by introducing it for initiatives such as the midday meal scheme of school lunches for children, and, most recently, requiring Aadhaar to file income tax returns.