New Delhi, May 19
The Supreme Court on Friday was told that the entire architecture of Aadhaar scheme was that of state surveillance of the citizens as the government was in possession of entire electronic record of the citizens. The bench of Justice A.M.Khanwilkar and Justice Navin Sinha was also told that the central government was in breach of its earlier assurance that information (biometric details) furnished by the people at the time of applying for Aadhaar number would not be shared with anyone. “They are in breach of it,” senior counsel Shyam Divan told the bench as it inquired from Attorney General Mukul Rohatgi about the assurance given by the Centre that it would not share with anyone the biometric information given by people at the time of applying for Aadhaar card. As Justice Khanwilkar asked: “You have made a statement that the information collected in the course of Aadhaar enrolment will not be shared with anybody,” both Rohatgi and Divan made a near simultaneous response. Rohatgi said he was “taken over by law”, referring to the Aadhaar Act 2016. “Parliament passed the law and parliament can’t be injuncted,” he added. The Attorney General noted that the government was insisting on Aadhaar number for availing the benefits under various social welfare schemes to eliminate ghosts beneficiaries as had happened in the case of public distribution scheme and other schemes. His contention came in the course of the hearing of petition by Shanta Sinha and Kalyani Sen Menon challenging series of 17 notifications issued by government since February this year making Aadhaar number mandatory for availing benefits under various social welfare schemes including mid-day meal and disability pensions as well as for victims of Bhopal gas tragedy. Seeking the response on the plea by Sinha and Menon, the bench gave three weeks time to Centre and one week time to the petitioner to file of their rejoinder. Sinha was the first Chairperson of the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights and a Magsaysay award recipient while Menon is a feminist researcher.
At the outset of the hearing, Rohatgi raised preliminary objections telling the court that even earlier, a petition with identical prayers and identical paragraphs was filed six months ago and in none of them, any interim relief has been granted and are pending hearing by the constitution bench.
He said this was an abuse of the process of court.
As Rohatgi said that even the present petition should be heard by the constitution bench, Divan wondered why he was fighting shy of hearing of the matter on merits.
As the pitch of the arguments on both the sides became high, Justice Sinha quipped that air-conditioning in the court room was good.
The bench however took exception to Divan saying that it should be cleared whether this petition can be heard by two judge bench or the constitution bench lest citizens are left to “grovel” before the court.
“Please don’t say that common citizen is not heard by the court,” said Justice Khanwilkar pointing out that the doors of the court were always open to people.
Also taking exception to the use of word “grovel”, Rohatgi recalled that once he was summoned at 2 a.m. in connection with an urgent hearing.
Admitting that some of the prayers were same, Divan said that they have filed a number of applications and the same were not being taken by the registry.
At this, the bench said that it would be better if the petition by Sinha and Menon and earlier applications filed by other petitioners are heard together in one go and fixed June 27 for the further hearing of the matter.
New Delhi, May 19