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Supreme Court issues notice in PIL seeking Aadhaar cards for people on NRC list

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The Supreme Court issued notice in a public interest litigation (PIL) filed by Rajya Sabha MP Sushmita Dev seeking issuance of Aadhaar card to persons in the National Register of Citizens list.

It is submitted that the biometric data submitted by the people in Assam for registration under the National Register of Citizens, is being withheld, pending notification of the NRC by the Registrar General of India despite the fact that their name has been inserted in the final list.

The bench comprising Justice Uday  Umesh Lalit, Justice S. Ravindra Bhat and Justice Pamidighantam Sri Narasimhaissued notice to the Union of India, State of Assam, Registrar General of India and UIDAI. 

Senior Advocate Biswajit Dev, along with Advocate Shwetank Singh and AOR Tulika Mukherjee, who appeared on behalf of the petitioner, informed the court the latest figure of the persons who are being denied for the issuance of Aadhaar is 27.42 lakh. He further stated,

 My only grievance is issuance of Aadhaar as denial of Aadhaar card is denial of basic needs and amenities. In the Aadhaar Act itself, it is clearly stated that each and every resident of this country is eligible of Aadhaar Card.” 

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Section 3(1) of the Act provides for the provision of Aadhaar number, and it states 

“every resident shall be entitled to obtain an Aadhaar Number by submitting his demographic information and biometric information by undergoing the process of enrolment.”

The petitioner states that the PIL has been filed under a narrow conspectus of facts wherein the Registrar of India, the State Government of Assam, and the Union of India are denying access to the biometrics of individuals whose names have been incorporated in the supplementary list dated 31.08.2019 and are therefore not able to access the benefits as would they be entitled to by having an Aadhaar Number.

Non-availability of Aadhaar card creates a major disadvantage in obtaining education access, application for jobs, application for PAN cards, ration card, opening of bank accounts etc and therefore impinging the ability of such people to have a right to livelihood, right to food, liberty, whether it be economical or political, self-determination and autonomy. It is submitted that not being able to obtain an Aadhaar number puts nearly 20 lakh people in jeopardy as they would not be able to access state sanctioned schemes, subsidies and benefits as the same requires mandatory registration under the Aadhaar regime. 

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The petitioner reveals that after the  publication of the draft list on 31.12.2017, nearly 27.43 lakh whose names were admitted into the NRC vide the Final Supplementary List dated 31.08.2019 are not being provided their Aadhaar Number due to the fact that the NRC biometric data has been put on hold citing the Statement of Purpose/Modalities for disposal of claims and objections prepared by the Union of India and approved by the Apex Court vide its order dated 01.11.2018, wherein the Supreme Court approved the Standard Operating Procedure for filing of claims and objections of those people excluded from the draft NRC list. Further, it laid down the timelines for the consideration of claims and objections and for publication of the Final List. 

The petition briefly states the impugned coercive actions taken against the persons whose names have been registered under the NRC. In pursuant to WP(C) 274 of 2009, the Apex Court took cognizance of the preparation of the NRC for the State of Assam and provided guidelines and directions from time to time for the preparation of NRC. On 17.12.2014, the Court set up a timeline for the implementation and publication of the final NRC list by end of January, 2016. The First NRC draft list was published on 30.07.2018 vide in which nearly 40 lakh people had been excluded. Further, the court directed the publication of Final NRC on or before 31.07.2019. The list came out excluding 40 lakhs and including 21 lakh in final list. 

The petitioner has sent various representations to UIDAI and the Registrar General of India, the following two responses were given. a) As the NRC has not been finally published, therefore, in light of the SOP approved by the Hon’ble Court, only once the NRC is published by the Registrar General of India, will the normal Aadhaar Card number be provided to people whose names appear in the Supplementary NRC. b) As the security regime for NRC data has not been set up, the list of exclusions cannot be made available to the State Government, Central Government and Registrar General of India.

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The petitioner challenges the decision of the State Government, UIDAI and the Registrar General of India not to release the biometric details of the person finding their name in the supplementary list of NRC. 

It is the case of the petitioner herein that the person whose names appear in the NRC definitely stand on a better footing than person whose names don’t appear in the NRC list for a grant of Aadhaar number, even though there exists no bar under the Aadhaar Act to provide Aadhaar number to person whose name don’t appear in the NRC list. It is argued that non-grant of Aadhar number specifically is antithetical to the rights which arise to the person whose names appear in the NRC list as they will be handicapped in accessing various welfare programs, registering for job and education and thereby impinging upon their right to live with dignity and their right to self-determination.

Matter to be returnable on May 17, 2022.

SUSHMITA DEV v UNION OF INDIA AND ORS.

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