Author: Nikhil Kanekal
In a writ petition challenging the Indian government’s tacit insistence on citizens using Aadhar cards for public services, the Supreme Court passed an interim order on Monday asking the government to make sure that no citizen is denied services for not possessing an Aadhar card.
A bench comprising justices B. S. Chauhan and S. A. Bobde directed the union government to ensure that “no person should suffer for not getting the Adhaar card inspite of the fact that some authority had issued a circular making it mandatory”.
The court also asked the government to make sure that Aadhar cards are not being given to illegal immigrants: “it may be checked whether that person is entitled for it under the law and it should not be given to any illegal immigrant.”
The government admitted before the Supreme Court that Aadhar cards were in fact not compulsory. To be sure, the Unique Identity Authority of India (UIDAI), which issues the Aadar cards as a universal identity to citizens, has said Aadhar is not mandatory for public services. However, it increasingly appears that basic public services are not available to citizens that don’t have an Aadhar card. This is being achieved by linking services with Aadhar. In some parts of India this could mean that a person needs to have a UID to get subsidized cooking gas. Although citizens are normally able to avail public services through various other forms of state-issued identification (such as passport, driver’s licence, voter ID, PAN card), the processes being followed by the central government and some state governments on certain public services (registration of marriage) and subsidies (cooking gas) has led many to believe that it is only a matter of time before Aadhar becomes mandatory in order to deal with the state.
In the instant case, a retired judge of the Karnataka High Court was told that he would not be paid his salary and dues, unless he got himself an Aadhar card. Unwilling to accept this, he filed a petition in the Bombay High Court.
An excerpt from a Press Trust of India report carried by Business Standard:
During the brief hearing, the bench of justices B S Chauhan and S A Bobde was told that despite the fact that the Aadhar card is “voluntary” in nature, an order has been issued by the Registrar of the Bombay High Court in pursuance of an order of the state government that it would be necessary for disbursal of salary of judges and staff also.
“The scheme is complete infraction of Fundamental Rights under Articles 14 (right to equality) and 21 (right to life and liberty). The government claims that the scheme is voluntary but it is not so.
“Aadhar is being made mandatory for purposes like registration of marriages and others. Maharashtra government has recently said no marriage will be registered if parties don’t have Aadhar cards,” senior advocate Anil Divan, arguing for Justice (retd) K S Puttaswamy, former judge of Karnataka High Court, said.