New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Friday decided to examine the constitutional validity of Section 139AA of the Income Tax Act that mandates linking of Aadhaar number with the PAN card.
A bench of Justice A.K. Sikri and Justice Ashok Bhushan said that they would hear the matter on Tuesday even as Attorney General Mukul Rohatgi stoutly defended the government decision to link Pan (Permanent Account Number) card with Aadhaar number.
Section 139AA, inserted by the Finance Act, 2017, mandates Aadhaar number for getting a Pan card, for continued validity of existing Pan card and also for filing Income Tax returns.
Opposing the petitions by CPI leader Binoy Visman, former army officer S.G. Vombakkere and Safai Karamchari Andolan founder and convenor Bezwada Wildon, Rohatgi told the court that making Aadhaar mandatory for filing Income Tax returns was a legislative mandate. He also referred to the government decision making Aadhaar number compulsory for obtaining SIM cards.
The court was told that Aadhaar number has been linked with Pan card as there were instances of people holding multiple or fake permanent account numbers.
Noting that there was widespread misuse of such PAN cards, the AG cited instances of same person holding more than one PAN card - one with full name and other with initials.
At this, the court asked Rohatgi if forcibly asking people to get Aadhaar card and linking it with the Pan a remedy to curb fake Pan cards.
Senior counsel Shyam Divan, appearing for Vombatkere and Wilson, said that it was extremely difficult to follow the rule as many people did not have an Aadhaar card. There was also constant mismatch of individual details in the two cards.
Meanwhile, senior counsel Arvind Datar, appearing for the Communist Party of India leader, told the court that the consequence of the linkage was those the Pan card of those who didn't have an Aadhaar number becomes invalid.
Visman, in his petition challenging Section 139AA, contended that though he holds a Pan card but has not applied for the Aadhaar card as same was not mandatory as per the orders of the top court as well as the provisions of the Aadhaar Act.
He argued that he was being coerced into obtaining an Aadhaar card, due to the newly-inserted Section 139AA, in complete violation of his right to privacy protected under Constitution's Article 21.
The top court by its August 11, 2015, order had said: "The Unique Identification Number or the Aadhaar card will not be used by the respondents (the Centre or its agencies) for any purpose other than the PDS Scheme and in particular for the purpose of distribution of foodgrains, etc. and cooking fuel, such as kerosene."
The order also referred to a larger coinstitution bench the challenge to the constitutional validity of the Aadhaar scheme on the grounds that it violated the right to privacy.
The government however held that privacy was not a fundamental right, referring a 1954 apex court verdict (by an eight judge bench) and another in 1964 (by a six judge bench) judgments which had said that the privacy was not a fundamental right that could be read in Article 21 guaranteeing protection of life and personal liberty.