New Delhi: The Supreme Court has ruled that for now, citizens do not have to link their Aadhaar numbers to a range of services including bank accounts, mobile phones and passport. The top court said that a biometric ID is mandatory for accessing social welfare schemes and subsidies, but till it decides on whether the government's demand for Aadhaar to be linked to private and public services is a violation of the right to privacy, the 12-digit unique number given to each citizen does not have to be linked to other services.
India launched Aadhaar, now the world's biggest biometric database, in 2009 to streamline welfare payments and reduce wastage in public spending.
A five-judge Constitution bench headed by Chief Justice Dipak Misra extended the deadline after the Centre said it had already submitted that they were ready to extend the March 31 deadline for linking of the national biometric identifier with all services and welfare schemes.
"We direct that the March 31, 2018, deadline for linking of Aadhaar with various services and welfare schemes stand extended till the matter is heard, and the constitution bench pronounces judgement," the bench also comprising Justices A K Sikri, A M Khanwilkar, D Y Chandrachud and Ashok Bhushan on Tuesday said.
The extension of the deadline would also apply on the mandatory linking of Aadhaar with the bank accounts and mobile phone numbers.
The constitution bench is hearing a batch of petitions which have challenged the constitutional validity of Aadhaar and its enabling Act.
On March 6, Attorney General K K Venugopal had indicated to the bench that the Centre was willing to extend the March 31 deadline in the wake of prolonged hearing of the matter.
On December 15 last year, the apex court had extended till March 31 the deadline for mandatory linking of Aadhaar with various services and welfare schemes.
Former Karnataka High Court judge Justice K S Puttaswamy, who is the lead petitioner in the case, had told the apex court on February 22 that several deaths had reportedly taken place due to starvation on account of glitches in the Aadhaar-based public distribution system and the court must consider granting them compensation.
Earlier, the top court had observed that the alleged defect of citizens' biometric details under the Aadhaar scheme being collected without any law could be cured by subsequently bringing in a statute.
It had said that the Centre came out with the law in 2016 to negate the objection that it was collecting data since 2009 without any authorisation, but the issue which needed consideration was what would happen if the data received earlier had been compromised.
The government says the Supreme Court, in that verdict, accepted that privacy is a fundamental right, but subject to reasonable restrictions.
Critics are worried about repeated data breaches and say the ID card links enough data to create a full profile of a person's spending habits, their friends, the property they own and other information.