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Monday 20 January 2020

Aadhaar Bill passed, ordinance now void: Centre to HC

The Bill allows voluntary use of Aadhaar as proof of identity for users to open bank accounts and get mobile phone connections.

New Delhi: As Parliament has passed the Aadhaar amendment bill for voluntary use of the biometric ID in the private sector, the Ordinance on the issue “does not survive”, the Centre informed the Delhi High Court Tuesday.

The submission by the central government before a bench of Chief Justice D N Patel and Justice C Hari Shankar came on a plea challenging the constitutional validity of the Ordinance on the ground that it was brought to “overturn” the Supreme Court decision regarding the use of Aadhaar by the private sector.

President Ram Nath Kovind had in March given his assent to the Aadhaar Ordinance that allowed voluntary use of Aadhaar as ID proof for obtaining mobile SIM cards and opening bank accounts.

Subsequently, on 24 June, the government introduced the Aadhaar and Other Laws (Amendment) Bill, 2019 to replace the Ordinance.

On 4 July, the Lok Sabha passed the Bill and on 8 July the Rajya Sabha passed it by a voice vote.

“Both Houses have passed the Bill. The Ordinance does not survive,” the lawyers for the government told the court during the day’s hearing.

However, the lawyer for the petitioners, who had challenged the Ordinance, said that the Bill has not yet been made an Act.

The court, after briefly hearing both sides, listed the matter for further hearing on 22 October.

The Bill allows voluntary use of Aadhaar as proof of identity for users to open bank accounts and get mobile phone connections. It also provides for a stiff Rs 1 crore penalty and a jail term for private entities for violating provisions on data.

It further provides for use of Aadhaar number for KYC authentication on a voluntary basis under the Telegraph Act, 1885, and the Prevention of Money Laundering Act, 2002.

A five-judge Constitution bench of the apex court had in September last year declared the Centre’s flagship Aadhaar scheme as constitutionally valid but struck down some of its provisions including its linking with bank accounts, mobile phones and school admissions.

The court had held that while Aadhaar would remain mandatory for filing of Income Tax returns and allotment of Permanent Account Number (PAN), it would not be mandatory to link Aadhaar to bank accounts and telecom service providers cannot seek its linking for mobile connections.

According to the petitioners, Reepak Kansal and Yadunandan Bansal, the ordinance allowed the private sector to use the Aadhaar infrastructure through the back door by amending the Indian Telegraph Act.

The petition has said that the ordinance amends the Telegraph Act to provide for voluntary use of Aadhaar for identity verification.

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