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SC refers modification plea on Aadhar to constitutional privacy bench

In a setback to the central government, the Supreme Court on Wednesday refused to modify its 11 August order restricting the use of Aadhaar card for distribution of foodgrain under PDS, supply of kerosene oil and LPG, saying that plea for the clarification or modification of its order would be decided by a larger bench.

A bench of Justice J Chelameswar, Justice SA Bobde and Justice C Nagappan referred a batch of applications seeking clarification/modification of its 11 August order to the larger bench, saying that since the main matter has been referred to the larger bench, so the application seeking relaxation of the order too should be referred to it.

The main matter relates to challenge to the validity of the Aadhaar scheme on the grounds that biometric data and iris scan collected under it violated the fundamental right to privacy of the citizens.

The court directed the registry to put all the applications seeking clarification/modification before Chief Justice HL Dattu for appropriate order.

The apex court was moved by the central and Gujarat governments, the Reserve Bank of India, the Securities and Exchange Board of India, the Unique Identification Authority of India, the Life Insurance Corporation, the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India, the Pension Fund Development and Regulatory Authority, NGO Centre for Civil Society and others seeking clarification or modification of the 11 August order that they may be allowed to ask for Aadhaar card as an identity proof on voluntary basis.

The court’s 11 August order referring the matter to a larger bench had come on a batch of petitions including by Karnataka high court’s former judge KS Puttaswamy, who have contended that the biometric details being collected for the issuance of Aadhaar card violated the fundamental right to privacy of the citizens as personal data was not protected and was vulnerable to exposure and misuse.

This position was disputed by the central government which had contended that the right to privacy was not a fundamental right as it referred to 1954 verdict by the bench eight judges and 1964 verdict by six judges bench which had both held this position. But the smaller benches of two or three judges took a contrary position, which the central government had contended was in breach of judicial discipline where smaller benches had to abide by the verdict of larger benches.

In the wake of the conflicting judgments, the bench of Justice Chelameswar, Justice Bobde and Justice Nagappan by their 11 August order had referred, to a larger bench, an authoritative decision on the status of right to privacy.

To be updated.

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