Posing a fresh challenge to Aadhaar, a writ in the Supreme Court has questioned the constitutional validity of the Reserve Bank of India’s decision to make its linkage with bank accounts mandatory, adding strength to pending pleas challenging the unique identification on the grounds of violation of privacy.
The writ comes a day after RBI stated that linking of bank accounts with Aadhaar has been made mandatory under the provisions of the Prevention of Money Laundering Act.
“The government has issued a gazette notification GSR 538(E) dated 1 June 2017 regarding Prevention of Money Laundering (Maintenance of Records) Second Amendment Rules, 2017, inter alia, making furnishing of Aadhaar (for those individuals who are eligible to be enrolled for Aadhaar) and permanent number (PAN) mandatory for opening a bank account,” the central bank said.
The new petition by Kalyani Menon Sen, who describes herself as a feminist scholar and activist working for 25 years on issues relating to women’s rights, also challenged the validity of the March 23 circular issued by the department of telecommunication making it mandatory for citizens to link their mobile phones with Aadhaar. She said both decisions violated an individual’s right to privacy and, hence, are unconstitutional.
A nine-judge Constitution bench of the SC had in August ruled unanimously that the “right to privacy is an integral part of right to life and personal liberty guaranteed in Article 21 of the Constitution”. The question whether right to privacy is a fundamental right and if it can be invoked to challenge Aadhaar was decided by the nine-judge bench, which left the adjudication of the validity of Aadhaar to a five-judge bench.
Sen’s petition, filed through advocate Vipin Nair, said the government’s decision to link Aadhaar with bank accounts by amending rules under PMLA violate the solemn promise given by the authorities that parting of biometrics by individuals was on a voluntary basis.
By making it mandatory through PMLA rules, the government was coercing those who have not given their biometrics to part with it by providing for stringent punishment. “Present and potential bank account holders who do not wish to part with their biometric information are, therefore, treated on a par with alleged offenders under PMLA,” she said.
She said the Aadhaar (Targeted Delivery of Financial and other Subsidies, Benefits and Services) Act, 2016 had expressly limited the purposes for which Aadhaar number was required to be quoted. It was to be mentioned while receiving a subsidy, benefit or service which was given from the money drawn from the Consolidated Fund of India. “Services which are provided by public and private sector banks and operating of bank accounts do not fall under any subsidy, benefit or service,” she added.