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SC to set up constitution bench on Aadhaar petitions, pulls up West Bengal

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New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Monday said a five-judge constitution bench would hear a batch of petitions challenging the validity of the Aadhaar law on charges of being intrusive and violating the right to privacy.

The top court also pulled up the West Bengal government for directly approaching it against the central government’s move to make Aadhaar mandatory for availing benefits under social welfare schemes.

A bench headed by Chief Justice Dipak Misra and Justice A.M. Khanwilkar and Justice D.Y. Chandrachud said the hearing on the petitions challenging the government move would take place in the last week of November.

The court said this after Attorney General K.K. Venugopal told the bench that the government had filed a detailed affidavit refuting all the allegations on expanding the area under Aadhaar linkage.

Asking the court not to issue any further interim orders, Venugopal said the government was ready to argue and the court, if deemed fit, could set up a constitution bench to decide on the various Aadhaar petitions.

He said the government had already issued more than 100 orders and notifications to address the glitches in the implementation of Aadhaar.

The government counsel also told the court that fake reports were being spread about Aadhaar linking, including how the unique ID was being made compulsory for CBSE students to appear in Class 10 and 12 exams.

As court said that the challenge to Aadhaar law would be heard by the five judges constitution bench, the issue of extending the deadline for linking Aadhaar with bank accounts, PAN, mobile numbers and other schemes for those who don’t have the unique identification number is now on the backburner.

The issue is not there, as the court is hearing the matter in the last week of November, the Attorney General said. The existing deadline is up to December 31.

In the last hearing of the matter on October 25, the Centre had indicated that the deadline for linking Aadhaar with bank accounts, PAN, mobile numbers and other schemes for those who don’t have the unique identification number and are willing to go for it may be extended till March 31.

The validity of Aadhaar law that has been challenged by a number of people, including former Karnataka High Court Judge K.S. Puttaswamy, first Chairperson of National Commission for Protection of Child Rights and Magsaysay awardee Shanta Sinha and researcher Kalyani Sen Menon.

Aadhaar is being challenged in the court amid apprehensions that it violated right to privacy — which a nine-judge bench had already declared as a fundamental right — with the use of biometric details like fingerprints and iris scans.

The nine-judge bench ruling has a bearing in the Aadhaar case as the petitions argue that the Aadhaar Act 2016 is unconstitutional.

Earlier in the court, a separate bench pulled up West Bengal for challenging the Centre’s decision to link Aadhaar for giving subsidies, wondering how could a state government could challenge a law passed by the central government.

“How can a state government challenge a law passed by the Centre? This way the Centre would start challenging the laws passed by the states,” observed a bench of Justice A.K. Sikri and Justice Ashok Bhushan.

The bench also gave time to the West Bengal government to amend its petition questioning the linking of Aadhaar for giving subsidy by the state’s Labour Department.

The court said West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee could challenge the aspect of Aadhaar law requiring linking as an “individual” and a “citizen”.

However, the court gave notice to the Centre on a plea challenging the mandatory linking of mobile phones with Aadhaar. The Centre was given four weeks to respond.

Banerjee said her government had the highest respect for the Supreme Court, saying it had not rejected their plea against the Centre’s move.

“There is no problem. The court did not say it rejected the plea. The court asked us to appeal individually. We appreciate that,” Banerjee said.

“We accept the court’s decision. I know that some individuals have also appealed against the policy.” (IANS)

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