The Centre indicated to the Supreme Court it was open to the idea of extending the March 31 deadline for linking of Aadhaar with bank accounts, mobile phones and other services.
“We have extended the deadline in the past too. We can do it again. Let’s see how the hearing proceeds. If required, we can do it again,” attorney general of India KK Venugopal said in his submission before a constitution bench led by Chief Justice Dipak Misra hearing a batch of petitions against the Aadhaar law.
Venugopal said the Centre might extend the deadline after the petitioners demanded an extension, saying the case may not be decided before March 31, the last date to link the 12-digit unique identity number with various government schemes and services.
Lawyer for one of the petitioners, senior counsel Shyam Divan, on Tuesday asked the bench to consider the plea because the deadline was nearing and the case was unlikely to be decided by then. But the bench — which also includes justices AK Sikri, AM Khanwilkar, DY Chandrachud and Ashok Bhushan — said it would consider the request in the presence of the attorney general.
Senior advocate Arvind Datar, another counsel for the petitioners, made the request again when Venugopal arrived in court post-lunch.
As justice Sikri agreed the case might take time to be decided, the attorney general said the government had in the past extended the deadline and it was ready for the same but not immediately. “We will do it at the last moment so that they (other side) conclude it quickly,” he said.
So far only three lawyers from the petitioners side have completed their arguments. Senior advocate Arvind Datar is likely to conclude his arguments on Wednesday. Five more senior lawyers are yet to open their arguments on behalf of the petitioners. Thereafter, the government, UIDAI, Maharashtra and Gujarat governments will respond. This is likely to take the hearing beyond March 31. The judges will then also take their time to write the judgement.
Earlier, Datar questioned the legality of making Aadhaar mandatory, saying the state cannot say that all one billion bank account holders in the country were suspect. “They do the KYC (Know Your Customer) before opening a bank account,” he added.
According to him the Aadhaar Act gives a right to every citizen to have the unique identity number. But, contrary to this the Prevention of Money Laundering Act makes a citizen duty bound to get Aadhaar. “What is a right under one Act cannot be a duty under another Act,” Datar submitted. He will resume his arguments on Wednesday.
Former union minister and senior advocate P Chidambaram is also likely to argue against the Aadhaar Act to point out that passing it in Parliament as a Money Bill was wrong. He is expected to begin his arguments on Wednesday.