NEW DELHI: The Supreme Court on Friday upheld the newly-inserted provision in the Income Tax Act mandating linking of the Aadhaar number with the Permanent Account Number (PAN), but partially blocked its operation.
A bench of Justice A.K. Sikri and Justice Ashok Bhushan in their judgment held that those who already possess the Aadhaar number will have to link it with PAN, but it cannot be insisted upon in case of people not possessing it.
The bench said that those who have already applied for Aadhaar number but are yet to receive it would suffer no adverse consequences and their PAN cards would not be invalidated as this would have "serious consequences".
Section 139AA of the Income Tax Act, incorporated by way of the Finance Act 2017-2018, provides for the invalidisation of PAN if it is not linked to Aadhaar number.
Holding that the said provision was not violative of the Constitution's Article 14 (Right to Equality) and Article 19 (Right to freedom of speech and expression), Justice Sikri, pronouncing the judgment, said that the new provision may be effective prospectively and not retrospectively, and the transactions already undertaken in the past cannot be reopened.
The court also rejected the plea by the petitioners -- senior Communist Party of India leader Binoy Visman, Maj.Gen. S.G. Vombatkere (retd.) and Safai Karamchari Andolan convenor Bezwada Wilson that it should be voluntary and not mandatory.
Addressing repeated concerns of the petitioners about leakage of personal information of the citizens collected while enrolling them for Aadhaar number, the court said this concern needs to be addressed and asked the government to tighten the procedures to guard against this.
Holding that the court could not question the wisdom of legislature to enact a particular law, the bench said that issue raised before it was of seminal importance.
Referring to the right of human dignity as a facet of Article 21 raised by the petitioners while steering clear from raising the issue of privacy, the court said that these were overlapping and did not address them as a matter relating to privacy was pending before the Constitution Bench.
Citing "judicial discipline", the court said that the question whether privacy was a fundamental right is before a larger Constitution Bench.
The question whether privacy was a right was referred to the Constitution Bench on August 11, 2015, following conflicting judgments by the apex court on privacy.
While an eight-judge bench in 1954 and a six-judge bench in 1964 had held that privacy was not a fundamental right, subsequently in nearly 25 judgments by smaller benches, this view underwent change and it came to be recognised and cemented as a part of fundamental rights under Article 21.