The Centre on Tuesday failed to get any relief on Aadhaar card being made compulsory for availing social benefits, particularly gas cylinder subsidies, from the Supreme Court which turned down its plea to modify its interim order that no person be deprived of any schemes for want of Aadhaar.
The apex court, however, agreed to give an urgent hearing to Centre on the issue but refused to grant any relief to it and oil PSUs seeking modification of its earlier order in this regard.
The highest court passed its order while hearing a batch of petitions, including the one filed by social worker like Aruna Roy against the implementation of the Aadhar scheme or the "Unique Identification Number" System (UID), linking it to various social benefit schemes.
A batch of top government lawyers including Attorney General G E Vahanvati and Solicitor General Mohan Parasaran tried their best to convince the court to modify its order, saying that it would severely affect grant of gas subsidies and the entire distribution system in 97 districts would come to a standstill.
Observing that the prevailing situation is a "double edged problem", the bench said that no order can be passed without hearing the parties who challenged the Aadhaar and posted the case for final hearing after Dussehra vacation.
Pushing hard to convince the bench, the AG submitted that the apex court interim order would have serious implications and thousands of people who are given gas cylinder subsidies would be affected.
"Aadhaar is the only fool proof mechanism to check misuse of subsidies. People won't get gas cylinder subsidies. 76 percent consumers are registered under the Aadhaar and they will be affected," the AG submitted.
Additional Solicitor General L Nageshwar Rao, appearing for oil PSU, also pleaded for modification of order, saying that distribution system would come to a grinding halt and we cannot get back to the old system.
The petitions came up before a bench comprising Justices BS Chauhan and SA Bobde, which decided to club them with other applications, filed by the Centre and the three oil PSUs seeking modification of its earlier order that Aadhar card is not mandatory.
"...The enrolment under the UIDAI scheme is purportedly voluntary - yet many welfare schemes of the State seem to mandate the need for an Aadhar number to access those schemes - effectively making Aadhar enrolment compulsory," the petition filed by social workers said.
The petition also said the manner in which the biometric details of the citizens are collected by private contractors and NGOs hired by UIDAI without any safeguard makes it prone to misuse not only by private actors but also by the State.
The petitioners also claimed there is an empirical research to show that the biometric identification denoted for UID, namely the Iris Scan and finger print Identification, is faulty and capable of misuse.
"Without a statutory framework determining accountability, data-protection, offences for violation etc., UID is putting in jeopardy not only life and rights of people but also security of our country," the petitioners said.
The petition also said the scheme violates the fundamental rights of the citizens and the government is practically making it mandatory for seeking benefits under various welfare schemes such as PDS, MNERGA, pensions, scholarships, Janani Suraksha Yojana and LPG connections meant for economically weaker sections whose lives and livelihood depend on such schemes.
Those who do not manage to enrol are ultimately excluded and since it involves dependency on machines, any technical failure would mean delay with no alternative, it said.
It also said though UIDAI claims that persons with no document to prove their identity can be introduced by other individuals with UID who can certify their identity "it is not as simple as it sounds and give rises to various security risks and the possibility of fake identities, which can compromise national security."
The petition said implementing the UID system in its present form amounts to direct infringement on fundamental rights of the citizens because of the lack of data protection.
It also said it violates the right of equality before law and protection of life and personal liberty as by linking UID with other social welfare benefit schemes, persons who are currently benefiting under such existing welfare schemes, run the risk of being arbitrarily excluded.
"...Such, high-handed and casual action of the State, wherein its citizenry are deprived of their fundamental rights, stands in violation of the Constitution - both in letter and in spirit. There is no justification for the casual implementation of such a scheme without providing adequate legislative safeguards."
The petitions were filed after the Supreme Court ruled that the Aadhar card, being issued by Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI, was not mandatory for availing any government services and nobody should be deprived of any such facilities for want of the card.
The apex court had passed the earlier order while hearing a batch of pleas against the decisions of some states to make Aadhar cards compulsory for a range of activities including salary, PF disbursals and marriage and property registrations.
After this, the Centre had moved the court seeking modification of the order.
IOCL, BPCL and HPCL had also approached the court speaking about "serious doubts, confusion and uncertainty" in the minds of citizens who have already enrolled for Aadhaar card to avail Direct Benefit Transfer for Liquefied Petroleum Gas Consumers (DBTL) scheme to get subsidised LPG cylinders.
Meanwhile, the Union Cabinet today cleared National Identification Authority of India Bill to provide legal status to UIDAI and legal backing to Aadhar.
Sources claimed the bill was cleared at a meeting of the Union Cabinet headed by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh this morning. It may be tabled during the Winter Session of Parliament.
Besides giving statutory status to the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI), the Bill seeks to provide legal backing to Aadhaar, which is used to disburse subsidies.
The UIDAI, which issues 12-digit Aadhaar numbers to residents, currently operates through an executive order.
The new law seeks to create a National Identification Authority of India, which will oversee implementation of the Aadhaar project. It also seeks to define the penalties in case of misuse of data collected under the project.
(With PTI inputs)