NEW DELHI: For more than a year, the centre has cited a Supreme Court ruling to order millions of mobile phone subscribers to link their phone connection with an Aadhaar number and many have complied. On Wednesday, the Supreme Court pulled out the ruling. It turned out that the Supreme Court had never ordered the government to link mobile phones with Aadhaar.
But this is what last year's department of telecommunications order had proclaimed.
This government order, apparently based on a non-existent court ruling, was the basis for the barrage of messages from mobile companies to their subscribers, threatening to disconnect phone connections if the mobile phones were not linked by a deadline.
The telecom department's notification says that Aadhaar and SIM had to be linked on the direction of the Supreme Court but the Supreme Court had not issued any such direction in that case, said Justices AK Sikri and DY Chandrachud, two of the five judges on the constitution bench hearing a batch of 27 petitions against the identification programme.
It was during this hearing that the judges finally decided to check up with the lawyer for UIDAI, the body that runs the Aadhaar programme.
Rakesh Dwivedi, who had yesterday asked the judges to rule like doctors to save Aadhaar, initially quoted the Supreme Court's verdict from last year by way of an explanation.
But both judges shot back, pointing that they had read up on the verdict which only recorded the submission of the government and the top court had passed no such orders.
"There was no such direction from the Supreme Court, but you took it and used it as tool to make Aadhaar mandatory for mobile users," the bench said, according to news agency Press Trust of India, asking how the government could impose the condition on service recipients for seeding Aadhaar with mobile phones.
The government lawyer was seen to make an effort to wriggle out of the awkward situation, contending that the provision to verify telecom subscribers had been in place even earlier and the centre drew its powers from Telegraph Act.
The top court had last month put on hold a government rule that mandated people to link their mobile phone numbers to Aadhaar by March-end, ruling that it could not disconnect phones for non-compliance till the judges decided the Aadhaar case.
At that time too, the government had refused to extend the March-end deadline claiming that this was in line with the court's order in a case.
Justices Sikri and Chandrachud have, in the past also, posed tough questions to the government that have gone on an overdrive to mandate people get an Aadhaar number and link the unique identification number. Earlier this month, the judges had pointed the centre had already issued 144 notifications to force people to submit their Aadhaar number to get services from the government.
"Why do you need cellphone linked to Aadhaar? You consider every individual as a terrorist or violator?" Justice AK Sikri had asked. The court had wondered if it would meet the test of proportionality.
A nine-judge bench of the Supreme Court had last year held that privacy is a fundamental right, a question that was triggered by the NDA government which insisted that constitution makers did not intend to make privacy a fundamental right. That line of argument in the top court was seen by privacy campaigners as an attempt to buy time. The government had pushed through the Aadhaar law months later.
The 2016 law empowers the government to order people to submit their Aadhaar to identify themselves to access not just subsidies but practically any service or facility.