New Delhi, Aug 11: Aadhar card will not be mandatory for availing benefits of government's welfare schemes, the Supreme Court ruled today as it barred the authorities from sharing personal biometric data collected for enrolment under the scheme.
A Constitution bench of the apex court will also decide the larger question of whether collecting biometric data for preparing Aadhar cards infringed an individual's privacy and if right to privacy was a fundamental right.
"No personal information of Aadhar card shall be shared by any authority," a three-judge bench said and took on record Attorney General Mukul Rohatgi's averment to this effect.
"UIDAI/Aadhar will not be used for any other purposes except PDS, kerosene and LPG distribution system," the bench headed by Justice J Chelameswar said, but made it clear that even for availing these facilities Aadhar card will not be mandatory.
The bench, also comprising Justices S A Bobde and C Nagappan, directed that the information received by UIDAI shall not be used for any other purposes, except in criminal investigation and that too with the permission of the court.
It, however, did not allow the interim pleas of the petitioners, who have challenged the Aadhar scheme, to stop the process of ongoing enrolment.
Earlier in the day, the same bench had referred to a Constitution Bench the batch of petitions challenging the Centre's Aadhar card scheme to decide whether right to privacy is a fundamental right.
The petitioners have claimed that collection and sharing of biometric information, as required under the scheme, is a breach of the "fundamental" right to privacy.
Allowing the Centre's plea, the court framed various questions, including as to whether right to privacy is a fundamental right, to be decided by a Constitution Bench.
"If yes, then what would be contours of the right to privacy," the bench said while referring the matter to Chief Justice H L Dattu for setting up the larger bench.
At an earlier hearing, Rohatgi, while backing the Aadhar card scheme, had contended that right to privacy was not a fundamental right.
"No judgment explicitly cites right to privacy as a fundamental right. It is not there under the letters of Article 21 either. If this court feels that there must be clarity on this subject, only a Constitution Bench can decide," he had said.
He had cited two judgments, pronounced by six and eight- judge benches, which had held that right to privacy is not a fundamental right.
Subsequently, smaller benches had held a contrary view and, hence the matter needed to be decided by a larger bench, he had said.
"Whether right to privacy is a fundamental right guaranteed under Part III of the Constitution of India, in the light of express ratio to the contrary by an eight-judge bench in M P Sharma case and also by a six-judge bench of this court in Kharak Singh's case has to be decided," Rohtagi had said.
Referring to pronouncements made in A K Gopalan, Maneka Gandhi and bank nationalisation cases, the top law officer had said that inconsistencies with regard to interpretation of certain fundamental rights can only be "squared up" by a larger bench.
The Centre had opposed a plea seeking initiation of contempt proceedings against it, Reserve Bank of India (RBI) and others for allegedly insisting on Aadhar cards to grant benefits of various schemes to citizens, saying it was not mandatory.
In pursuance of earlier orders, the government has conveyed to the states and authorities concerned not to make Aadhar cards mandatory for availing benefits of various schemes, Additional Solicitor General Pinky Anand had told the court.
The bench was hearing a batch of pleas against decisions of some states to make Aadhar cards compulsory for a range of activities including payment of salary, provident fund disbursement, marriage and property registration.
The government had also said those having Aadhar cards were being asked to provide it to authorities but it was optional.
Senior advocate Gopal Subramanium, appearing for Mathew Thomas, one of the PIL petitioners, had filed an application seeking initiation of contempt proceedings against the Centre and others, including RBI, and the Election Commission.
He had alleged that the government and others were in violation of earlier orders that had said that no person should be denied any benefit or suffer for not having Aadhar cards.