Tribune News Service
New Delhi, April 21
The Centre’s move to link Aadhaar number with Permanent Account Number (PAN) for filing income tax returns from the assessment year 2017-18 came in for judicial scrutiny on Friday with the Supreme questioning the decision.
“Why has it been made mandatory?” a Bench headed by Justice AK Sikri asked Attorney-General Mukul Rohatgi during hearing of a PIL questioning the legality of Section 139AA in the Income Tax Act that talks about linking Aadhaar number with PAN. There was an order to keep it optional, it pointed out.
Defending the government’s decision, Attorney-General Mukul Rohatgi said people were furnishing PAN cards procured on the basis of fake documents. He said many of them held multiple PAN cards and used them to divert funds to shell companies.
“Is making Aadhaar by force the only way to tackle fraud?” the Bench asked.
A Constitution Bench of the Supreme Court is already seized of petitions challenging the validity of Aadhaar on the ground of violation of Right to Privacy.
The court had in August 2015 said Aadhaar number would not be mandatory for availing benefits of government’s welfare schemes.
However, in October 2015 it permitted voluntary use of Aadhaar number in welfare schemes, including MGNREGA, pension schemes, provident fund and ‘Pradhan Mantri Jan Dhan Yojna’.
The top court had last month said Aadhaar number was not mandatory for welfare schemes.
However, the Centre maintained that the earlier order applied only to LPG and food grains subsidy and it was free to use Aadhaar for filing of income tax returns.
Rohatgi said in the past it has been found people procuring SIM cards for mobile phones on fake identity cards and the top court itself had asked the government put in place a proper verification process to check it.
The Bench said it would hear arguments on the petition challenging the validity of Section 139AA of the Income Tax Act linking Aadhaar number with PAN on April 25.
The top court was hearing CPI National Executive Member Binoy Viswam’s petition challenging the legality of Section 139AA of the Income Tax Act.
A former Kerala MLA, Viswam contended he did not have an Aadhaar number as it was not mandatory in view of the top Court’s orders which said it was not mandatory as well as provisions of the Aadhaar Act.
He, however, contended that due to introduction of Section 139AA of the Act, he was being forced to get an Aadhaar number in complete violation of his right to privacy guaranteed under Article 21 of the Constitution.
Viswam said he and other citizens, who had refrained from enrolling in the scheme due to apprehensions regarding infringement of their right to privacy, were being forced to give their consent for Aadhaar.
Petitioner contended biometric and demographic information of individuals was sought to be forcefully obtained by the State by making the consequences of non-enrollment drastic.
It was evident from the fact that non-enrollment by July 1, 2017, as mentioned in the impugned provision, shall render the PAN of the defaulting individual invalid, attracting serious consequences under the Income Tax Rules, the petitioner submitted.