Parliament on Monday passed an amendment bill. Thus, Aadhaar card has become voluntary Identity Proof. It means that people can use Aadhaar as voluntary proof of identity to open bank accounts and get a mobile phone connection. Recently, Union Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman has allowed applicants to use Aadhaar to file Income Tax return.
The Rajya Sabha passed the Aadhaar and Other Laws (Amendment) Bill, 2019, by a voice vote. It was already passed by Lok Sabha on July 4. The Bill also provides for Rs 1 crore penalty and a jail term for private entities violating provisions on Aadhaar data. The Aadhaar and Other Laws (Amendment) Bill, 2019, was introduced in the Lok Sabha on June 24. After approval of the parliament to this bill, Aadhaar is not mandatory to open bank accounts and get new mobile connections now. The amendments provide for use of Aadhaar number for KYC authentication on voluntary basis under the Telegraph Act, 1885, and the Prevention of Money Laundering Act, 2002. Additionally, the Bill also seeks to give a child an option to exit from the biometric ID programme on attaining 18 years of age.
It is worth mentioning that earlier, the government had made Aadhaar mandatory for opening bank accounts, getting a mobile phone connection and for many government services. But last year, the Supreme Court in its historic verdict ordered that Aadhaar number will not be required for obtaining SIM cards and opening bank accounts. However, the Supreme Court upheld the constitutional validity of Aadhaar and said that it empowers the marginalised sections of the society. After the decision of the Supreme Court, the government was bound to amend the Aadhaar Act.
The move is aimed at making Aadhaar people-friendly. It also paves the way for use of alternative virtual identity number to conceal actual Aadhaar number of an individual. The bill also proposes deletion of section 57 of the Aadhaar Act relating to use of the biometric identifier by private entities. It will also prevent denial of services for refusing to or being unable to, undergo authentication. Besides this, the proposed amendments provide for the establishment of the Unique Identification Authority of India Fund and confer enhanced regulator-like power on the UIDAI.
Supreme Court’s verdict on Aadhaar
On 26 September, 2018, a five-judge Constitution Bench headed by then Chief Justice Dipak Misra and comprising Justices A K Sikri, AM Khanwilkar, D Y Chandrachud and Ashok Bhushan passed the landmark verdict on a batch of petitions challenging the constitutional validity of Aadhaar. The Supreme Court upheld the constitutional validity of Aadhaar and said that it empowers the marginalised sections of the society. However, the ruling came with certain caveats with the top court mandating that the 12-digit Aadhaar number will not be required for obtaining SIM cards and opening bank accounts. The apex court also said that Aadhaar will not be mandatory for school admissions, UGC, NEET and CBSE examinations. But the linkage of Permanent Account Number (PAN) cards with Aadhaar remains compulsory.
The need to link your bank account with your Aaadhar number has been done away with. The Supreme Court struck down Section 57 of the Aadhaar Act. Hence private companies can no longer ask for a consumer’s Aadhaar details. Similarly, users no longer need to produce their Aadhaar number for procuring SIM cards.
According to the Supreme Court verdict, the 12-digit unique identification number need not be produced at the time of school admissions or enrollment in exams of NEET, CBSE and UGC. PAN is a 10-digit alphanumeric number issued to assessees by the Income Tax Department and is mandatory for filing income tax returns. The court also asserted that Aadhaar card will not be provided to illegal migrants. The Supreme Court asked the central government to introduce a strong data protection law as soon as possible.
The judgement was passed with a 4:1 majority with Justice D Y Chandrachud’s having a dissenting view. He stated that Aadhaar may possibly lead to profiling of voters. Justice AK Sikri read out the verdict and stated that Aadhaar empowers the marginalised section of the society and gives them an identity. He said, “Aadhaar is also different from other ID proofs as it can’t be duplicated. It is better to be unique than being the best and Aadhaar is unique.”
The Court further said that minimal demographic and biometric data of citizens are collected by the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) for Aadhaar enrolment and the Aadhaar number given to a person is unique and can’t be provided to any other person. The bench had reserved the judgement in the matter on May 10, 2018 after a long-standing hearing that went on for nearly 38 days, spanning over four months.
It is remarkable that the challenges against Aadhaar had started even before the law came into existence in 2016. At least 31 petitions, including one by former High Court judge KS Puttaswamy, had been filed in the matter. During the course of the hearing the Supreme Court, on March 13, 2018 had indefinitely extended the deadline for linking Aadhaar with bank accounts and mobile phone numbers.
The counsel for the petitioners, Shyam Divan, had raised concerns over the ‘integrity of the process, integrity of the information and pervasive violation of fundamental rights. He had told the Supreme Court that Aadhaar may cause the death of citizens’ civil rights. While the government and the UIDAI have defended the scheme on every instance by stating that it ensures benefits are distributed among the population in a proper manner and also deters siphoning of funds.
PAN card and Aadhaar card interchangeable for filing tax returns
Union Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman in her Budget speech announced on July 5 that taxpayers can now file Income Tax returns using Aadhaar Card also. The FM has made PAN card (Permanent Account Number) and Aadhaar card interchangeable for filing tax returns. She said, “More than 120 crore Indians now have Aadhaar card, therefore for ease of taxpayers I propose to make PAN and Aadhaar interchangeable and allow those who don’t have PAN to file returns by simply quoting Aadhaar number and use it wherever they require to use PAN.” People will be able to use Aadhaar cards instead of PAN cards to conduct financial transactions, for instance, mutual fund investments, buying gold, an