A five-judge Constitution bench of the Supreme Court is set to hear on Tuesday a challenge to various issues surrounding Aadhaar with the main focus on privacy issues.
The bench will consider whether Aadhaar violates the right of privacy.
The bench, comprising Chief Justice of India J.S. Khehar, and Justices D.Y. Chandrachud, J. Chelameswar, S.A. Bobde and Abdul Nazeer, will examine a plethora of issues arising out of the Centre’s 12-digit biometric identification number.
A total of 22 cases were tagged by the Supreme Court to be heard by the constitution bench. They challenge several aspects of Aadhaar and the use/sharing of data collected under it.
Among these challenges are—making Aadhaar mandatory for social welfare benefits, infringement of right to privacy, making Aadhaar mandatory for filing income tax returns (ITRs) as well as for obtaining and retaining PAN.
For the court to delve into the privacy issue in detail, it will first have to take a call on the strength of the bench and decide whether there is a need to refer the issue to a larger bench.
To make this decision, the Supreme Court will have to consider legal precedents and study the scope of privacy under each of them to decide on the number of judges. The five judges would then either continue to look into the privacy issue or refer the issue back to the chief justice for the constitution of a nine-judge bench.
Should the five-judge bench decide to rule on the case itself and not refer it to a larger bench, it could decide the future of Aadhaar, which has become the backbone of government welfare programmes, the tax administration network and online financial transactions.
On 13 July, the Supreme Court had ruled for the setting of a constitution bench to address the long standing question of whether Indian citizens have the right to privacy, and if Aadhaar breaches the right.
The centre has maintained its stand that right to privacy is not a fundamental right. Then attorney general Mukul Rohatgi told the Supreme Court in 2015 that Indian citizens don’t have a fundamental right to privacy under the Indian Constitution—an argument he repeated subsequently.
The new attorney general K.K. Venugopal has told the court that at least 350 million people were able to access benefits under various government schemes.
On the other hand, Shyam Divan, counsel for one of the petitioners had compared the situation to one under a totalitarian regime where people were being forcefully tagged and tracked by the government.