The Centre on Friday told the Supreme Court it would go ahead with the unique identity project, Aadhaar.
Government counsels told the court the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) would continue its work and added the earlier interim order of the court making the identity card not mandatory for government services would be followed.
Before coming to power, the National Democratic Alliance government was opposed to Aadhaar and had even claimed it would do away with it once it came to power. However, since May last year, the government has not only supported the project but has pushed for its linkage with several welfare projects such as the Jan Dhan Yojana and the direct benefits transfer scheme in cooking gas.
The clarification of the new government came in the wake of doubts about its stand over the ambitious project started by the United Progressive Alliance government, when retired Army officer Mathew Thomas filed a petition in the court last month. Solicitor General Ranjit Kumar gave the response on behalf of the government, which had asked for two weeks to come up with its official stand on the project. The petition was taken up by the bench headed by Chief Justice H L Dattu.
Senior counsel Gopal Subramanium representing a new petitioner, Mathew George, argued the Maharashtra government had issued circulars making the Aadhaar number compulsory to claim wages for its employees and even schools and other institutions were insisting on the card for granting their facilities such as scholarships. He said the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) had also made the number compulsory for know-your-customer, or KYC, scheme and all banks were therefore insisting on Aadhaar identification.
The Maharashtra government and RBI have been made parties to the case after these arguments.
However, the Solicitor General said the state governments might have insisted on the Aadhaar number, but the Centre had not. He was not aware how many other state governments or public authorities had made the number compulsory even after the Supreme Court order.
For the moment, only the Maharashtra government has been impleaded in the case. The court also tagged on the new petition to nine other public interest petitions pending in the court pertaining to Aadhaar.
Since the bench that heard those cases and passed the interim order had changed, all petitions will be heard by a new bench to be constituted after a month. Meanwhile, the parties can file their affidavits clarifying their stands. According to the interim order passed a year ago, the court had said no one should be deprived of any social welfare benefits such as cooking gas or food ration, for want of an Aadhaar card.
So far, 758 million Aadhaar numbers have been generated and UIDAI has been asked to cover the entire country by March this year. However, there is still no clarity on the progress of the UID Bill, which will give legal sanctity to the body that has been so far running on an executive order.