With 25 days to go before the deadline for mandatory Aadhaar linkages with everything from bank accounts and welfare schemes to SIM cards and PAN cards, procrastinators might have cause to rejoice. The Centre told the Supreme Court on Tuesday that it may push back the March 31 deadline since some more time would be needed to conclude the prolonged hearing of the Aadhaar case.
"We have extended the deadline in the past and we will extend the deadline again but we may do it by the end of month to enable the petitioners in the case conclude the arguments," said Attorney General K.K. Venugopal. The five-judge Constitution bench, comprising Chief Justice Dipak Misra and Justices A.K. Sikri, A.M. Khanwilkar, D.Y. Chandrachud and Ashok Bhushan, are hearing the petitions contesting the validity of the Aadhaar law agreed with his contention. "It is a very valid point raised by the Attorney General and the court would not allow repetitive arguments made by the petitioners' counsel in the matter," added the Bench.
Earlier, senior advocate Shyam Divan, who led the arguments challenging Aadhaar and its enabling Act, had asked that the deadline of March 31 be extended as it was highly unlikely that the hearing in the case would conclude. Justice Chandrachud, too, had pointed out that even if the court reserved its verdict on March 20, the banks and other institution would have only 10 days left, which might be difficult. The Bench then called the Attorney General for assistance in the issue.
This development comes just a couple of days after Industry body Assocham urged the government to relax the deadline for seeding bank accounts, especially the public sector banks. "Notwithstanding judicial scrutiny and government's well-intentioned moves, the banks, particularly those in the PSUs, may find it hard and challenging to complete the task of linking Aadhaar with the accounts of all the customers by March 31, 2018, thus necessitating relaxation of the deadline," Assocham had said in a statement. Following the unearthing of the massive fraud at Punjab National Bank and a few other banks, the PSBs are anyway fire-fighting to protect their core business and are hard pressed for human and other resources required to take up the job of Aadhaar linkage, it explained.
The body further noted that even those who have already submitted Aadhaar details are getting KYC reminders. "There is a lot of confusion which may lead to further problems as we approach the deadline ... It is best advised that the banks be allowed to come out of the crisis like situation before they are given the additional task of Aadhaar seeding to customer accounts," said Assocham.
The hearing in the apex court continues today.
As of March 2017, India issued 1.14 billion Aadhaar cards, covering 85% of the population, as per the State of Aadhaar Report 2016-17. A year on, over 1.2 billion residents have enrolled. According to the government, that's 99% of the country's adult population.
The deadline for Aadhaar-linking with PAN cards was initially extended from June 30, 2017 to end-August and then December 31. In that period, the number of linked Permanent Account Numbers (PANs) went up from around 20 percent of the total to 30 percent and then a whopping 47 percent. The figure is obviously higher now. Similarly, so far, around 80 percent of the estimated bank accounts have already been seeded, up from 70 percent in mid-December.
With PTI inputs