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The Supreme Count on Tuesday issued an interim order extending the deadline for linking Aadhaar numbers to bank accounts, mobile phone numbers, passports and other services indefinitely beyond the previous deadline of March 31. A Constitution Bench is also hearing a case on this matter. The five-judge Bench comprising Chief Justice Dipak Misra, Justice A K Sikri, Justice A M Khanwilkar, Justice D Y Chandrachud, and Justice Ashok Bhushan said there was no need to link Aadhaar to these services till a judgment was pronounced on the constitutionality of the Unique Identification Programme. Petitioners have challenged the use of biometrics for authentication and have raised concerns over privacy. The government has claimed that Aadhaar was being used for better targeting of services and subsidies. While Aadhaar would still be needed for receiving government subsidies, it is not necessary even for tatkal passports. With the earlier deadline, banks had gone into an overdrive, asking customers to submit Aadhaar numbers.
The Unique Identification Authority had also set up enrolment desks at many bank branches to make it easier for customers to get Aadhaar numbers. According to the estimates provided by Minister of State Arjun Ram Meghwal to the Lok Sabha, 160 million permanent account numbers (PANs) and 870 million bank accounts have already been linked with Aadhaar. There are 1.2 billion active savings bank accounts in the country. Six days ago, the court had also ruled that Aadhaar was not mandatory for take an entrance examination, including the National Eligibility-cum-Entrance Test, conducted by the Central Board of Secondary Education. Attorney General K K Venugopal had informed the court that the government had not made Aadhaar mandatory for taking exams. On Wednesday, Congress leader and former finance minister P Chidambaram argued on behalf of the petitioners challenging Aadhaar. A lawyer present in court later said, “It was mentioned multiple times that the deadline was coming up and there was great concern among the people.” The government had on March 6 said the deadline could be extended till the Constitution Bench had delivered a verdict on the case. “We have extended the deadline in the past and we will extend the deadline again, but we may do it by the end of month to enable the petitioners in the case to conclude the arguments,” Venugopal had said. He argued on Wednesday that the relief should not be provided to people availing subsidies and benefits. The court agreed to it. The government is expected to start arguing its case in the first week of April and arguments could last a couple of weeks. The court’s summer holidays start in May. Lawyers and experts seemed uncertain about when the final verdict will be out.