The Supreme Court on Friday said that those who do not have Aadhaar cannot be forced to get it in order to file income tax returns, even as it upheld the government’s scheme of linking Aadhaar with PAN cards.
A bench of Justices AK Sikri and Ashok Bhushan ruled that those with both Aadhaar and PAN cards would need to link the two to file income tax returns, as part of the government’s effort to reduce fake PAN cards. But it also said the government cannot force anyone without Aadhaar to get it for filing tax returns, until a constitution bench of the Supreme Court fully examines questions of privacy regarding India’s unique identity project.
Earlier in the year, the government had passed last-minute amendments to its Finance Bill making Aadhaar mandatory for those filing Income Tax returns. The provision made it mandatory to link PAN cards, which are used for income tax returns, to Aadhaar, and also said that those who file I-T returns without an Aadhaar-linked PAN card would have their PAN declared invalid.
Section 139AA of the Finance Act, which featured these provisions, has now been partially stayed by the court. The bench accepted the government’s argument that linking of Aadhaar to PAN cards would reduce the prevalence of duplicate PAN cards. But it also noted that Aadhaar is being challenged on questions of privacy, and said that the government cannot not make it mandatory for those who do not have the UID number, until that hearing is complete.
A Constitution bench of the Supreme Court is expected to hear several challenges regarding the fundamental nature of the Aadhaar project, a scheme that uses biometric data to create a 12-digit unique identity for every resident of the country. The project has been mired in controversy from the very beginning, with questions about privacy as well as the safety of data being held by the government.