The Central government’s all-out drive to make Aadhaar cards mandatory for all citizens as a single identification document continues, even as a constitutiol bench of the Supreme Court is going over the privacy issues involved. In the latest development, the apex court has upheld the validity of a law that makes it mandatory to link the 12-digit Aadhaar with PAN card and filing of income tax returns. Fince Minister Arun Jaitley has long been arguing that this measure will help check tax evasion. The government duly inserted this measure through an amendment in Fince Act 2017-18 that was hotly contested by opposition parties. Nevertheless, the amended law as per Section 139AA of the Income Tax Act makes it mandatory to quote Aadhaar with effect from July 1 this year while applying for PAN card or filing IT returns. And now the apex court has upheld the legislative competence of Parliament in ecting this law; the SC bench has ruled that those who already have Aadhaar number will have to link it with their PAN cards. However, this linkage cannot be insisted upon for those who do not possess Aadhaar; it will also not apply for those who have applied for Aadhaar but have not yet received it. The apex court had to clear up this point because the newly-inserted IT law says that PAN cards not linked to Aadhaar will be invalidated.
Meanwhile, the Central Board of Direct Taxes (CBDT) has made its own clarification after the SC ruling. According to CBDT, the apex court has only given ‘partial relief’ to those who do not have Aadhaar or Aadhaar enrolment ID, so the taxman ‘will not cancel’ their Permanent Account Number (PAN). “Only a partial relief by the court has been given to those who do not have Aadhaar and who do not wish to obtain Aadhaar for the time being, that their PAN will not be cancelled so that other consequences under the Income Tax Act for failing to quote PAN may not arise,” the CBDT has stated. This means tax assesses primarily from states like Assam and Meghalaya will not face PAN hassles as of now, since Aadhaar enrolment has been a non-starter in these two NE states. But the problems are not going to end here. People from these states going to other parts of the country for medical treatment, and in particular students for higher studies, are already running from pillar to post for not having Aadhaar. With the process to update the tiol Register of Citizens (NRC) stalled in Assam, there is no knowing when Aadhaar enrolment can be started in the State. Nearly 98 percent of the country’s population has been covered under Aadhaar, and the CBDT has now further made it clear that Aadhaar will be a “must” for filing Income Tax returns or for obtaining new PAN card from July 1.
What is coming through clearly is the Central government’s determition to make the Aadhaar card virtually indispensable. This, despite the SC constitutiol bench examining the question whether Aadhaar violates the citizen’s right to privacy, whether it gives the government overweening powers to keep citizens under surveillance after possessing their biometric and demographic data in detail. In March this year, the Supreme Court ordered that the government cannot be stopped from using Aadhaar identification for ‘non-welfare’ schemes like opening of bank accounts, filing of tax returns, verification of new and existing mobile phone numbers and user credentials etc. Though the apex court reiterated its earlier order in August 2015 that Aadhaar cannot be made mandatory for people to derive benefits under ‘welfare’ schemes, it did allow ‘voluntary use’ of Aadhaar cards in such schemes. But a cursory look at the number and variety of schemes the government wants to make Aadhaar compulsory will show that it is already the most important identification proof a citizen needs to possess, to which existing ID proofs like PAN, passport and driving licenses are being linked. Whether it is for subsidised foodgrains, crop insurance and soil health card for farmers, vocatiol training and loans for women, maternity benefits and integrated child protection, central scholarships tiol apprenticeship promotion, booking flight tickets — in all these and many other schemes besides, the Central government wants Aadhaar as the one and only ID proof. Banks, fincial institutions and telecom companies are already asking for Aadhaar in their Know-Your-Customer (KYC) verification and profile maintence. The government has already made its case successfully in the apex court that mandatory Aadhaar linking is a must to elimite duplicate PAN cards. After reiterating its resolve to make Aadhaar mandatory for welfare schemes after June 30, the government is bound to put forward the same argument that it wants all bogus beneficiaries removed. It remains to be seen whether anti-Aadhaar activists can plead their case successfully in the apex court to ensure that the government takes adequate protection against data leakage, theft and manipulation, as well as guaranteeing better privacy for citizens under a new law.