The fresh petition challenging the constitutionality of the Aadhaar Act (Shantha Sinha v. Union of India) came up for hearing before the Supreme Court today. While this petition has been tagged with the main bunch of petitions challenging the Aadhaar scheme, it also seeks urgent interim relief by way of a stay on 18 different executive notifications. As noted in our previous post, interim relief is crucial as most of these notifications stipulate 30 June 2017 as the deadline to enrol for Aadhaar.
Today’s hearing was solely to determine whether the petitioners were entitled to interim relief. However, less than a week ago, the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology issued an ‘Office Memorandum’ to all central ministries, extending the date for mandatory enrolment to 30 September 2017. Pertinently however, similar to the exemption granted by the Supreme Court in the Aadhaar/PAN judgment, this extension only applies to those who are yet to enrol for Aadhaar. For those who possess the number, 30 June 2017 remains the deadline to quote Aadhaar in order to continue receiving benefits under the respective scheme.
Today’s hearing began with the Additional Solicitor General seeking a short adjournment on the ground that the government wished to respond to the claims made in the petitioners’ rejoinder. He argued that there was no ‘burning urgency’ anymore as the deadline for enrolling for and submitting Aadhaar had been extended till 30 September. While the petitioners’ counsel did not oppose the request for adjournment, he clarified that the extension notice excluded several beneficiaries. He therefore urged the Court to protect all beneficiaries from having to submit their Aadhaar number till the next date of hearing.
The bench appeared reluctant to pass any order to this effect. It asked if the petitioners had concrete evidence to show that children were being denied their mid-day meals on account of the notification(s) in issue. Despite pointing out that the deadline was 30 June 2017, and the feared exclusion would begin only after that, the Court appeared unconvinced.
In its order today, the Court noted that in view of paragraph 90 of the judgment in the Aadhaar/PAN case, no clarification or special order was required. This paragraph holds that the requirement of obtaining an Aadhaar number is voluntary. This is slightly confusing, as neither does it protect those who have obtained an Aadhaar number but to not wish to link it to the various schemes in issue, nor does it advance the government’s plan of ensuring mandatory enrolment by 30 September 2017.
The Court listed the case for further hearing on 7July 2017, before which the Union of India will file its response to the petitioners’ claims in the rejoinder.