How the journey of Aadhaar has progressed in the Supreme Court

How the journey of Aadhaar has progressed in the Supreme Court

Shruti Mahajan

The constitutionality of the Aadhaar scheme has been one of the more testing issues before the Supreme Court in recent times. A testament to the above is the fact that it was one of the longest ever hearings in the Apex Court, second only to the Kesavananda Bharti case.

The challenge in the Supreme Court has its genesis in 2012, when the first petition was filed by former Karnataka High Court judge Justice KS Puttaswamy. Since then, several petitions challenging various aspects of the scheme have come up before the Court.

After a long journey which saw arguments bordering on the laughable, a landmark judgment by a nine-Judge Bench, and a number of deadline extensions for linking of Aadhaar, the hearing in the case concluded on May 10 this year.

With news coming in that the Supreme Court will pronounce its verdict in the matter tomorrow, we take a look at the journey of Aadhaar and how challenges to the scheme have progressed in the Supreme Court.

January 2009:

Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) is established through a notification issued by the Planning Commission. The purpose of UIDAI is to issue Unique ID numbers to citizens.

December 2010:

National Identification Authority of India (NIAI) Bill, 2010 introduced in the Rajya Sabha under the UPA II government and referred to a Standing Committee. The Bill is subsequently rejected, leaving UIDAI with no legislative backing.

November 2012:

A PIL is filed in the Supreme Court by a former Karnataka High Court Judge Justice KS Puttaswamy challenging the Aadhaar scheme on grounds that it violates one’s right to privacy and has no legislative backing.

September 2013:

Supreme Court passes an interim order stating, “In the meanwhile, no person should suffer for not getting the Aadhaar card in spite of the fact that some authority had issued a circular making it mandatory and when any person applies to get the Aadhaar Card voluntarily, it may be checked whether that person is entitled for it under the law and it should not be given to any illegal immigrant.”

October 2013:

Centre moves the Supreme Court praying for a modification of its interim order which said Aadhaar was not mandatory for essential services. This plea is subsequently dismissed, with the Court declaring that no revision petitions will be entertained in that regard.

November 2013:

Fresh petitions filed before the Supreme Court against RBI’s and Election Commission’s decisions to make Aadhaar sole proof of identity for opening bank accounts and for voter registration respectively.

March 2014:

The Supreme Court directs the Centre to withdraw all its notifications which made Aadhaar mandatory for availing welfare benefits under social security schemes. The Court also restrains UIDAI from sharing the biometric details of an Aadhaar card holder with any agency or individual without the express consent of the cardholder. This order was passed with reference to an order passed by a lower Court in Goa directing UIDAI to share biometric details with the CBI to solve a rape case.

March 2015:

The Supreme Court warns the Centre against insisting on Aadhaar cards for the provision of government benefits stating that such instances are in clear violation of the interim order passed by the Court in September 2013. The Court reiterates that the scheme is voluntary, not mandatory.

August 2015:

A three-judge Bench of the Supreme Court comprising Justices J Chelameswar, SA Bobde, and C Nagappan refers the question of whether Right to Privacy is a fundamental right to a Constitution Bench. This question emanated from the petition challenging the validity of Aadhaar on the grounds that it violated one’s right to privacy. In the interim, the Court allows the Centre to link Aadhaar for its public distribution system (PDS) schemes and for the purpose of distribution of LPG with the view that it will help in plugging subsidy leakages, mentioning again that the scheme shall be voluntary and cannot be made mandatory.

September 2015:

Securities and Exchange Board of India (SEBI), Reserve Bank of India (RBI), Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI), Insurance Regulatory and Development Authority (IRDA) and Pension Fund Regulatory and Development Authority (PFRDA) move the Supreme Court seeking clarification on the aforementioned order passed by the Court. SEBI prays for a modification of the order to allow Aadhaar number for verification of address and RBI seeks using it for banking transactions provided it is furnished voluntarily by the customers. These applications are heard by the three-judge Bench of Justices J Chelameswar, SA Bobde, and C Nagappan.

October 2015:

On October 7, the three-judge Bench refuses to modify its earlier order and says any further plea with respect to Aadhaar will be heard by the Constitution Bench.

On October 15, a five-Judge Bench of the Supreme Court led by then Chief Justice of India HL Dattu is constituted. The Court extends the scope and use of Aadhaar by the Government for schemes like the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA), Jan Dhan Yojana, pension schemes and employee provident fund, noting that it shall remain voluntary.

March 2016:

Lok Sabha passes the Aadhaar (Targeted Delivery of Financial and Other Subsidies, Benefits and Services) Bill, 2016 as a Money Bill, giving legislative backing to the UIDAI/Aadhaar scheme.

April 2016:

Senior Congress leader Jairam Ramesh moves Supreme Court challenging the manner in which the Aadhaar Bill was passed by the Centre as a Money Bill.

June 2016:

Centre directs State governments to link Aadhaar cards with caste certificates and domicile certificates to be issued to school students.

September 2016:

A two-Judge Bench of the Supreme Court discovers that the Centre was urging production of Aadhaar number for students to apply for government scholarship schemes in defiance of its order that no citizen shall suffer on account of not being enrolled. The Supreme Court reminds the government that Aadhaar is meant to be voluntary and shall not be made mandatory.

October 2016:

The government makes Aadhaar compulsory for availing LPG subsidy, contrary to the Supreme Court order of October 2015, which expressly said the scheme shall remain voluntary and citizens shall not be made to suffer for not having enrolled.

January 2017:

Centre makes Aadhaar mandatory for members of the Employee Provident Fund Scheme to continue availing the benefits of the scheme.

Government declares Aadhaar number will be mandatory for those enrolled under the MGNREGA scheme starting April 2017.

February 2017:

The Supreme Court agrees to examine the question raised in a petition filed by Congress leader Jairam Ramesh.

March 2017:

Government proposes making linking of Aadhaar with Permanent Account Number (PAN) for the purpose of filing Income Tax Returns (ITR) mandatory. Deadline set to link numbers with PAN set for August 31, 2017.

The DoT directs telecom service providers to verify the details of all their customers, existing and new, through Aadhaar-based KYC (Know Your Customer) service. Deadline for this exercise fixed on February 6, 2018.

A three-Judge Bench of the Supreme Court reiterates that Aadhaar cannot be made mandatory for availing benefit of government schemes. Court mentions that a 7-Judge Bench is needed to decide on the question of whether Right to Privacy is a fundamental right.

May 2017:

A petition is filed by several individuals challenging government notifications that make Aadhaar mandatory for availing benefits of government schemes. Supreme Court agrees to hear the petition.

June 2017:

Supreme Court partially reads down Section 139AA of the Income Tax Act which makes Aadhaar mandatory for filing Income Tax Returns.

A Bench of Justices AK Sikri and Ashok Bhushan reads down the proviso to Section 139AA(2) and rules that those who do not have Aadhaar will not be required to obtain the same for linking it with PAN. However, those who have obtained Aadhaar will have to link it with PAN for filing Income Tax Returns.

July 2017:

On July 18, a five-Judge Constitution Bench led by then Chief Justice of India JS Khehar and comprising Justices J Chelameswar, SA Bobde, DY Chandrachud, and S Abdul Nazeer agree to set up a nine-Judge Constitution Bench to decide on the question of whether Right to privacy is a fundamental right.

On July 19, the nine-Judge Bench of the then Chief Justice of India JS Khehar and Justices J Chelameswar, SA Bobde, RK Agrawal, Rohinton Nariman, Abhay Manohar Sapre, DY Chandrachud, Sanjay Kishan Kaul and SA Nazeer begin hearing the case on right to privacy.

August 2017:

In a landmark judgment, the Supreme Court holds that privacy is a fundamental right under the Constitution of India.

September 2017:

CBDT extends the deadline for linking Aadhaar with PAN and for the purpose of ITR to December 31, 2017.

October 2017:

Activist Dr. Kalyani Menon Sen approaches the Supreme Court challenging the government’s decision to make linking Aadhaar with bank accounts mandatory. The petition also assails the government’s notification regarding compulsory linking of Aadhaar with mobile numbers.

A fresh petition is filed by political analyst and activist Tehseen Poonawala, challenging the DoT’s notification making linking Aadhaar with mobile numbers mandatory.

CPI Leader Binoy Viswam moves the Supreme Court against Section 139AA of the Income Tax Act, which makes linking of Aadhaar with PAN mandatory. In a similar petition filed earlier by Viswam, the Court had upheld the Section in June 2017.

The West Bengal State Government led by Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee moves Supreme Court against Government of India’s move to make Aadhaar mandatory. The Court refuses to entertain the petition asking how a State government can question a law enacted by the Parliament.

November 2017:

The Centre, through Attorney General KK Venugopal and Senior Counsel Shyam Divan urge the Supreme Court to set up Constitution Bench to hear the petitions regarding the validity of Aadhaar.

December 2017:

The government tells the Supreme Court that it is willing to extend Aadhaar-linkage deadlines to March 31, 2018.

On December 14, Supreme Court extends the deadline for Aadhaar linkage with bank accounts for non-holder of Aadhaar cards and linkage with mobile numbers to March 31, 2018, in an interim order. The interim order also extends the date for linking Aadhaar for welfare schemes to March 31, 2018.

The three-Judge Bench of Chief Justice Dipak Misra, Justice AM Khanwilkar and Justice DY Chandrachud seeks the Centre’s response in the petition filed by Congress leader Jairam Ramesh over the decision to treat Aadhaar Bill as a Money Bill.

January 2018:

Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra sets up a five-Judge Constitution Bench to hear 28 petitions in the Aadhaar matter. The hearing begins on January 17. Apart from CJI Misra, Justices AK Sikri, AM Khanwilkar, DY Chandrachud, and Ashok Bhushan are also on the bench.

February 2018:

Supreme Court refuses to extend the deadline for Aadhaar linkage beyond March 31, 2018.

A fresh PIL is filed before the Supreme Court by BJP Spokesperson and Supreme Court Advocate Ashwini Kumar Upadhyay seeking a direction to the Election Commission (EC) to implement an Aadhaar-based voting system. The Court agrees to hear the petition.

March 2018:

Commencing arguments for the Centre, Attorney General KK Venugopal submits that Aadhaar data is stored behind 13 feet high and 5 feet wide walls in servers maintained by the Central Identities Data Repository.

CEO of UIDAI Ajay Bhushan Pandey concedes before the Supreme Court that the Aadhaar biometric authentication process is not one hundred percent secure.

In a significant order, the Supreme Court extends the deadline indefinitely for Aadhaar linkage with mobile numbers and new bank accounts till the final judgment of the Court. However, the deadline for linkage for availing subsidies and welfare schemes is not extended.

April 2018:

According to UIDAI, the failure rate of IRIS scan is 8.54 percent while that of the fingerprint is 6 percent.

The Supreme Court clarifies it had never directed for mandatory linking of Aadhaar with mobile numbers and that the ‘order’ passed in February 2017 was not an order, but a recording of submissions of then AG Mukul Rohatgi, which government misinterpreted as an order.

RBI makes seeding of Aadhaar number in bank accounts mandatory as part of the updated KYC guidelines “subject to the final judgment of the Supreme Court” clarifying that the changes will not have an immediate effect.

May 2018:

The government says Aadhaar is not mandatory for purchase of new SIM cards after the Supreme Court clarifies it never directed for the same to be made mandatory. Centre directs telecom service providers to start accepting alternative documents.

On May 10, the arguments and submissions in the Aadhaar case conclude and the Supreme Court reserves its verdict in what was the second longest hearing before the Supreme Court.

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