The agency that issues Aadhaar told the Supreme Court on Wednesday that it was insisting on linking the biometric-based unique identification number with various services to protect people from crimes, not because it believes everyone is a criminal, The Hindu reported.

Additional Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, appearing for the Unique Identification Authority of India, gave the example of air passengers being frisked, saying this does not mean everyone is a hijacker. “It is done to protect us from hijacking,” he said.

Mehta made this argument to counter the petitioners’ allegations that insisting on Aadhaar enrolment for everyone stigmatises all, and creates the perception that the government is scrutinising everyone for tax evasion, terrorism and financial fraud.

However, Justice AK Sikri – a member of the five-judge Constitution bench that is hearing a batch of petitions against the Aadhaar programme – criticised this argument, saying the passengers who are frisked are those who “choose to travel”. “You cannot compare it with the Aadhaar situation where 128 crore people are mandatorily asked to link their mobile SIMs, bank accounts and PAN cards with their Aadhaar cards,” Justice Sikri said.

Justice DY Chandrachud – another member of the bench – questioned the “level of intrusion” that the entire population was being subjected to because of Aadhaar linking. “When tax evasions amount to Rs 33,000 crore, it is a serious problem that Aadhaar linkage may curb,” Mehta responded.

He also pointed out that provisions such as Section 139AA of the Income Tax Act, which makes Aadhaar-PAN linking mandatory, were an effort to “bridge the growing gap between the rich and the poor”.