The Supreme Court on Friday made it clear that banks and telecom service providers will have to indicate the last date of linking bank accounts and mobile numbers with Aadhaar in their communications with customers.
Currently, the last date to link Aadhaar with bank accounts is December 31 this year while for mobile numbers, it is February 6, 2018.
The top court did not pass any interim order on the pleas challenging the constitutional validity of the Aadhaar Act as well as linking of 12-digit unique biometric identification number with bank accounts and mobile numbers.
It said that final hearing in all Aadhaar-related issues would start before another bench in the last week of November and that bench would decide on the issue. Moreover, the Centre has already extended the deadline till December 31.
A bench comprising Justices A K Sikri and Ashok Bhushan was told by the advocates representing the petitioners that “panic” was being caused among the people as the messages sent by the banks and mobile service providers were warning them the services would be deactivated if Aadhaar is not linked.
“We make it clear that in the messages sent by banks and telecom service providers, the date of December 31, 2017 and February 6, 2018, shall also be indicated as the last date of linking Aadhaar with bank accounts and mobile numbers,” the bench said.
The court issued notice to the Centre on four separate pleas and tagged them with the main petition which would come up for final hearing before a constitution bench.
At the outset, the bench said that since another bench was scheduled to commence the hearing on Aadhaar-related pleas from the last week of November, the matters listed before it should also be decided by that bench.
Senior advocate Shyam Divan, representing one of the petitioners, referred to the recent affidavit filed by the Centre and said it has been told by the government that the December 31 deadline for linking Aadhaar with bank accounts may be extended up to March 31, 2018.
“The notification says the process (of linking Aadhaar with bank accounts) should be completed by December 31, 2017 or else the accounts would cease to operate. Now, they say it may be extended till March 31, 2018. Therefore, till March 31, bank accounts should not be made non-operational,” he said.
He said Attorney General K K Venugopal had recently mentioned the matter before Chief Justice Dipak Misra but not made a statement that no coercive action would be taken till March 31, 2018 against those who have not linked their mobiles or bank accounts with Aadhaar.
“The whole idea is not to coerce people. If they are extending the deadlines, this aspect must be clarified,” Divan argued while also raising the issue of linking of Aadhaar with mobile numbers.
When the bench asked the Attorney General about it, Venugopal referred to the apex court’s judgment declaring right to privacy as a fundamental right and said in that verdict, Justice D Y Chandrachud had emphasised on a robust regime for protection of data.
He said the report of Justice Sri Krishna committee, which has initiated the process of reviewing the entire issue of data protection, is likely to be ready by first week of March and that is why he had mentioned the matter before the CJI for extension of time till March 31, 2018 for linking of Aadhaar to avail the benefits of various government schemes.
“It was opposed tooth and nail (by the petitioners). The court had said it will hear it in the last week of November,” the attorney general said.
When the petitioners again said the Centre should not take coercive action against anyone till March 31 next year, the bench said, “till December 31, time is already there”.
“Since the final hearing in these matters would start in the end of November and time is already extended up to December 31, 2017, there is no need to pass any interim order at this stage.
“However, liberty is granted to the petitioners to press prayer for stay in case the hearing does not take place or continue beyond that,” the bench said.
At the fag end of the hearing, senior advocates Arvind Datar, Anand Grover and K V Vishwanathan, representing the petitioners, said the Centre cannot compel the citizens to link Aadhaar either with bank accounts or mobile numbers.
Datar said that under the prevention of money laundering rules, the government cannot say that bank accounts would be discontinued after December 31 unless linked with Aadhaar.
“There is no doubt that these arguments need consideration. The matter is going to come up in the last week of November and the time (to link Aadhaar with bank accounts) has been extended till December 31,” the bench said.
Vishwanathan argued that the Centre should tell the banks and mobile service providers not to send messages to customers threatening them of deactivation of accounts or mobile numbers if they fail to link it with Aadhaar as the “public is in a panicky situation due to this”.
On October 30, a bench headed by the CJI had said that a constitution bench would be constituted and Aadhaar-related matters would come up for hearing before it in November last.