It is troubling to see the media, government and even the ruling party interpret a verbal exchange of remarks as a Supreme Court-granted license to make Aadhaar mandatory for tax filings and mobile connections.On Monday, Marcy 27, senior advocate Shyam Divan, appearing for petitioners, made a mention before the Chief Justice of India of the batch of cases challenging the constitutional validity of the Aadhaar identification project, the National Population Register (NPR) schemes and the Aadhaar Act passed in 2016.
Some of the petitions in this batch of cases have been pending before the Supreme Court since 2012. In August 2015, this batch of cases was referred to a constitution bench of the Court – that is, to be heard by a minimum of five judges.
The petitioners sought from the Court a definitive date for final hearing of the matters as well as an assurance that their interlocutory application listed for hearing on 3rd April 2017 would not get deleted from the list for any reason. The interlocutory application seeks to, among other things, apprise the court of the recent spate of notifications from various central ministries in violation earlier interim orders passed by a bench of five judges on 15th Oct 2015.
Both of the petitioners’ requests were declined by the bench led by the CJI Khehar, sitting with justice Chandrachud and justice Kaul.
However, there was a brief exchange between the bench and Divan, as the bench was trying to understand the court’s earlier orders. This verbal exchange included some remarks by the CJI that the restraint of non-mandatoriness in the October 15, 2015 order perhaps only applied to social welfare and benefit schemes and did not apply to other activities like I-T filings.
However, many media organisations including the Press Trust of India (PTI), appear to have reported these remarks as definitive observations amounting to judicial orders. A number of media organisations published the PTI report. The Hindu in particular erred twice in the last two days by first carrying the PTI report as well as its own report that appears to definitively state that Aadhaar cannot be made mandatory for social welfare schemes but could be required for non-welfare schemes such as income tax filing.
This is wrong. In fact, no such sanction or order was ever in contemplation during the mentioning on March 27. The Supreme Court justices’ remarks, during a verbal exchange with advocates, do not in anyway amount to binding judicial orders and the reporting on the hearing therefore needs to make it unequivocally clear that nothing really changed between Sunday and Monday (the day that Divan mentioned the Aadhaar petitions).
It is troubling to see that the media, government and even the ruling party spokespersons (during television segments over the last days) have somehow seemed to have interpreted it as a Supreme Court-granted license to make Aadhaar mandatory for tax filings and verification of mobile connections. This post is to clear the confusion surrounding any such alleged pronouncements of the court on 27th.
The author of this post was present at the court at the time of the mentioning and can categorically state that there was no judicial order on March 27, 2017 that clarified or modified any of the earlier orders of the court.
The status and permissibility of the Aadhaar project in law is exactly the same today as it was before the court hearing on March 27.