Aadhaar procrastinators around the country could not stop gloating yesterday, after the Supreme Court indefinitely extended the March 31 deadline for mandatory linking of the UID number to various services and facilities, barring subsidies and benefits. But then, in a late evening tweet, the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) sought to clarify that despite the deadline extension, "the requirement of Aadhaar for opening new bank accounts and applying for Tatkal passports under the relevant laws continues".
The authority tasked with issuing the 12-digit biometric number added that "for those who do not have Aadhaar, they are required to apply for Aadhaar and provide the Aadhaar application number while applying for availing the aforesaid services."
The tweet's reference to new bank accounts is understandable. In mid-December, while extending the seeding deadline to the end of the current fiscal, Justice Chandrachud had made this requirement amply clear. And yesterday's apex court order is mostly an extension of the same interim order till the constitution bench delivers its verdict on Aadhaar's constitutional validity.
The bit that has the Twiterratti outraged and up in arms is the reference to Tatkal passports. According to The Times of India, during the March 13 hearing, Senior Counsel Arvind Datar had flagged-off concerns about the Centre making Aadhaar mandatory for issuing 'Tatkal' passports well ahead of the deadline, which is a blatant violation of the above-mentioned interim order. Representing lawyer-activist Vrinda Grover, he informed the court that the regional passport office told her to furnish an Aadhaar card if she wanted to avail of the Tatkal service for a new passport book.
Furthermore, the authorities reportedly cancelled her passport though it was valid till 2020 since she did not possess the UID number.
Datar claimed that the passport authorities had cited the Passports (1st Amendment) Rules 2018, which makes an Aadhaar number or at least an enrolment number mandatory for the issuance and renewal of passports. Though Attorney general K.K. Venugopal attempted to oppose Datar by stating that the mandate of Aadhaar was only for the Tatkal scheme, where police verification is done after issuance of passport, unlike the ordinary process of pre-checks, the apex court would have none of it.
The Bench stated that the interim order passed yesterday "shall also control and govern the Passports (1st Amendment) Rules, 2018". It reportedly added that any acceptable identity document could be furnished till the final judgment is rendered. This makes the UIDAI's tweets rather contradictory. Perhaps the hearing today will bring more clarity.
With PTI inputs