The Mamata Banerjee-headed West Bengal government was on Monday pulled up by the Supreme Court for ignoring federal norms and challenging the Aadhaar law, enacted by the Central government in Parliament, and the move to link Aadhaar with social welfare schemes and mobile phones.
While hearing a matter related to the chief minister’s personal grievance against mandatory linking of her mobile number with Aadhaar, the apex court said under the federal structure an individual can file such a plea but not a state government.
“How can a state file a plea challenging Parliament’s mandate?” asked a bench comprising Justices A.K. Sikri and Ashok Bhushan.
However, the court offered a way out to the chief minister who has been a bitter critic of the Aadhaar scheme for allegedly violating individual privacy.
“Let Mamata Banerjee come and file a plea as individual. We will entertain it..,” the court said.
Responding to the order, the chief minister said she will obey the court’s directive and gave a positive spin to the development in court.
“We have highest respect for the court. There is no problem. Court did not say it rejected the plea. Court asked us to appeal individually. We appreciate that,” she said.
Last week, Ms Banerjee had said that she will not link her phone with Aadhaar even if her connection is snapped.
Hearing the case,, Justice Sikri asked senior counsel Kapil Sibal, appearing for the West Bengal government, “You satisfy us how the state can challenge it. You know better than us. We know it is a matter which needs consideration.”
“Tomorrow, if the Centre starts challenging the laws passed by the state where will it lead to,” said the bench.
Mr Sibal maintained that the state was entitled to file a plea challenging Aadhaar but added that they would amend the prayer in the petition.
Apart from raising concerns over mandatory linkage of Aadhaar with mobile phones, the Mamata government’s petition contended that the Centre cannot make linking of Aadhaar cards mandatory for social welfare schemes as it would affect millions of poor people dependent on the rural jobs scheme, public distribution scheme for subsidised grains and other welfare initiatives.
The state government said that the Centre was pushing for linking welfare benefits to Aadhaar despite repeated directions by the apex court that Aadhaar cannot be made mandatory for extending social welfare benefits to citizens.
On Monday, the bench also issued notice to the Centre on another petition filed by advocate Raghav Tanka challenging the linking of mobile phone numbers with Aadhaar and granted four weeks to the Centre to file its response.
Mr Tanka submitted that the exercise of making it necessary to link Aadhaar for all phone subscribers is constricting rights and freedoms as it means passing on their personal biometric information to private telecom service providers.