In a last ditch attempt before the issue moves to a larger Constitutional bench, the government on Wednesday made a fresh pitch before Supreme Court for allowing voluntary use of Aadhaar cards for welfare schemes, saying it was prepared to give an affidavit by the "highest functionary" by Thursday morning that nobody will be deprived of benefits for lack of it.
"Do you (Centre) make it a precedent for giving benefits of schemes? Do you say that a person will not be put to a disadvantageous position because of lack of Aadhaar?" a five-judge Constitution bench headed by Chief Justice H L Dattu asked Attorney General Mukul Rohatgi when he pitched strongly for voluntary use of Aadhaar to provide benefits of various welfare schemes to "the poorest of poor".
"The answer to the question (whether Aadhaar would be voluntary) is : Yes. If the court wants, the affidavit of the highest functionary will be available by 10.30 am on Thursday," the Attorney General said and reiterated time and again during the two-hour-long hearing that nobody will be deprived of any benefits for either want of Aadhaar or for not using it.
At the outset, the court made it clear that it would take up the issue of modification of the order only and will not go into the merits of the questions referred for adjudication by the Constitutional bench.
"I have not made a decision as to whether it will go before a nine judge or 11 judge bench. We are concerned with the applications filed by the Central government and others," it said.
The bench, also comprising Justices M Y Eqbal, C Nagappan, Arun Mishra and Amitava Roy, may continue hearing the matter on Thursday also as the advancing of arguments on pleas of the Centre, RBI, SEBI, IRDA, TRAI, the Pension Fund Regulatory Authority and states like Gujarat and Jharkhand for modification of the August 11 order remained inconclusive.
During the hearing, the court also observed that though it is often said that Aadhaar is not mandatory, but at times, some authorities do "insist" on it.
A three-judge bench had on August 11 referred a batch of petitions, challenging Aadhaar cards scheme, to a larger bench for an authoritative view on the question as to whether the right to privacy is fundamental right or not and had also restricted the use of Aadhaar to PDS and LPG scheme only.
Rohatgi said over 92 crore citizens had been issued Aadhaar cards by the Unique Identification Authority of India and since the court has already stated that it will not be mandatory, there should not be any problem in allowing Aadhaar to be used on voluntarily basis to establish the identity of persons and make available the benefits of other welfare schemes as well.