In a shocking development, the Supreme Court on Wednesday questioned the Centre’s Narendra Modi government for using a non-existent order from the top court to force hundreds of thousands of consumers to link their mobile phones with Aadhaar.
On Wednesday the top court caught the bluff and made it clear that it had passed no such order even though the government has been citing that order to force millions of customers for mandatory linkage of their mobile phones to Aadhaar.
A five-judge Constitution bench headed by Chief Justice Dipak Misra and Justices AK Sikri, AM Khanwilkar, DY Chandrachud and Ashok Bhushan was hearing a bunch of petitions challenging Aadhaar and its enabling 2016 law. During the hearing, Rakesh Dwivedi, the lawyer for the UADAI, the body that runs the Aadhaar programme, cited a non-existent order from the Supreme Court as way of explanation. It was this non-existent order that the government had used to make telecom companies harass the customers with regular reminders.
On Wednesday, the bench decided to verify its ‘order,’ passed on a PIL filed by Lokniti Foundation. The top court made it clear that it had never passed any such order allowing the government to carry out the mandatory linkage programme.
“In fact there was no such direction from the Supreme Court, but you took it and used it as a tool to make Aadhaar mandatory for mobile users,” the bench was quoted by PTI. “How can you (DoT) impose condition on service recipients for seeding Aadhaar with mobile phones,” the bench added.
An embarrassed government lawyer then desperately tried to find his way out by hiding behind the Telegraph Act. He said that the direction to seed mobile with Aadhaar was taken in pursuance of TRAIs recommendation. He also said that the government was entitled and had legitimate state interest to ensure that a sim card was given to only those who applied, seeking to allay apprehensions that the State would will surveil the people 24×7.
“My submission is that the government had a legal basis to link Aadhaar with SIM by virtue of section 4 of the Telegraph Act and also, the measure is reasonable in the interest of national security,” PTI quoted the government lawyer.
The top court had last month put on hold the government’s 31 March deadline extending it indefinitely for the mandatory linkage of Aadhaar to mobile phones.
The government’s decision to implement the mandatory linkage of Aadhaar to bank accounts and mobile phones had evoked angry reactions from civil rights activists, who argued that the step was an infringement on citizens’ privacy.
The Supreme Court last year had ruled that the right to privacy was a fundamental right of every citizen of India. The apex court in December had extended the deadline for the mandatory linking of Aadhaar to mobile phones and bank accounts to 31 March.
Several deaths have been reported from cross India as poverty-stricken individuals failed to get government ration in the absence of Aadhaar numbers. In a sensational development earlier this year, the the deputy director of the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) had filed an FIR against The Tribune newspaper and its reporter Ra