The supreme court (SC) has ruled that the national scholarship portal cannot mandate students to submit Aadhaar number for registration. It has reiterated its position, stating that the Aadhaar card scheme is purely voluntary. The court pronounced an interim ruling on September 14 while responding to a petition filed by the All Bengal Minority Students Council. The council contested a communication, dated July 14, sent from the central government to all states asking them to make Aadhaar mandatory for the submission of the application forms for scholarships. The schemes include pre-matric, post-matric and merit-cum-means scholarships.
“Having regard to facts and circumstances of the case, the material evidence available on record and the submissions made by the learned senior counsel we stay the operation and implementation of letters… for pre matric, post matric and matric cum means scholarships to the extent that they have made submission of Aadhaar mandatory,” the court ruled.
READ | Supreme court’s order on Aadhaar
The apex court directed the ministry of electronics and IT, which is the second respondent in the case, to “remove Aadhaar as a mandatory condition for student registration at the national scholarship portal and… stay the implementation of clause ‘C’ of the ‘important instructions’ of the advertisement dated August 20, 2016” for the three scholarship schemes.
The stay order by the supreme court had very little impact. The scholarship portal continues to show Aadhaar as a mandatory condition for ‘merit cum means based scholarship’ under one of subheads (conditions of scholarship). See document here
The scholarship portal, scholarships.gov.in, in fact, runs a notification on the main page asking students, who don’t have an Aadhaar number but have applied for it, to apply for the scholarship by providing their Aadhaar enrollment number.
Last year, the SC had ruled on October 15 that Aadhaar will not be made mandatory until the court decides so. “We will also make it clear that the Aadhaar card scheme is purely voluntary and it cannot be made mandatory till the matter is finally decided by this court one way or the other,” the court order said.
After the government brought a money bill on Aadhaar and got it passed in both the houses of the parliament, many, including union ministers, were of the opinion that the law has an overriding effect on the SC’s interim ruling. In an interview to a national daily on September 20, electronics and IT minister Ravi Shankar Prasad said that the mandatory versus voluntary debate is “meaningless” as now Aadhaar has legislative backing and it has been made clear that people would require Aadhaar to avail government subsidy.
According to Jean Dreze, a development economist, the wording of the order makes it clear that the supreme court would regard Aadhaar being made mandatory for any purpose as “not tenable in law”.
“The effect of this order is to render illegal the government’s proposed directions to make Aadhaar mandatory for a whole range of benefits and services, from pensions and scholarships to railway bookings and so-called direct benefit transfers (DBT),” Dreze said.