The Supreme Court on Thursday said denying citizens benefits for lack of Aadhaar, or because of its non-authentication, may not be grounds for holding the Aadhaar Act unconstitutional, PTI reported. The Constitution bench made the observation while hearing the West Bengal government’s plea, which says that the state’s citizens should not be denied social benefits because of the Centre’s biometric identification programme.
The Supreme Court is in the process of hearing petitions that challenge the constitutional validity of the Aadhaar scheme and also the government’s move to make it mandatory to link Aadhaar with bank accounts, mobile numbers and Permanent Account Numbers.
Senior advocate Kapil Sibal sought an interim order, citing a news report that said some people were denied old age pensions because of lack of Aadhaar. The five-judge bench denied his request, but asked Sibal to continue with his arguments about people being excluded from benefits for not having an Aadhaar card.
Attorney General KK Venugopal opposed Sibal’s submission. “If biometrics and iris scans fail, you are entitled to produce any alternative ID,” he said, adding that an individual who does not have Aadhaar could seek benefits by showing that he had enrolled for it.
Additional Solicitor General Tushar Mehra, appearing for the Unique Identification Authority of India, said steps have been taken to handle “exceptional situations”. “This actually indicates a countrywide problem,” the bench observed. “And the question is that until mechanisms are in place, nobody should be excluded.”
When Sibal said that was a difference between enrolment and authentication, the court held that some people may have been excluded from benefits because of infrastructural failures, and that the government could upgrade the system.
“Passport, PAN card, driving licence and water, telephone and electricity bills are acceptable by authorities as identity cards,” Sibal argued. “Then what is the intent behind compelling citizens to go for Aadhaar?”