New illegal ground of Aadhaar misuse

Ms. Nirmala Nishikant Dhumane took voluntary retirement from the post office and is receiving pension on 1st of every month and said: she was told that her pension for month of March 2017 was held up for want of Aadhaar linking up along with 55 other pensioners who were former employees of this public authority; she filed RTI application about ‘linking-up of Aadhaar number to pension accounts’; that they had no authority to link up the Aadhaar card to her pension account all of sudden without any notice and stop payment for that reason; she suffered agony, various losses due to delay, could not lead normal life as pensioner etc.

In her RTI applications she asked: “My pension for the month of March 2017 was withheld for want of copy of Aadhaar card, and now also, l am directed by account branch to submit the copy of Aadhaar card. I may kindly be furnished the copy of order vide which the Aadhaar card is required/essential for pension payment. (i) Copy of the order by which the Aadhaar card is required/necessary for pension payment, and (ii) names of the persons whose pension was held up for want of Aadhaar card for the month of March 2017”.

The CPIO said that copy of the order sought was given for previous application, pension payment was delayed but not held up, and information relating to others’ pension was their personal information and hence denied.  She filed first appeal and the authority upheld the denial. In Second appeal she said false information was given and relevant information was given and denial of other information under Section 8(1)(j) was wrong. She claimed compensation for harassment she suffered because of denial.

During hearing CPIO agreed that the circular from Sub Regional Post Master Ahmednagar to Post Master General Pune on 03.04.2017 did not order to link up Aadhar card without any intimation. He also felt that the SRPM Ahmednagar should not have delayed the payment of pension to the 55 pensioners for not linking with Aadhaar.

Dhumane explained that she was under serious mental apprehension about receiving monthly pension because of Aadhaar, the delay was unreasonable, denial of information on that vital aspect was breach of her right and it was quite illegal to say the names of 55 pensioners would invade somebody’s privacy.
The CPIO said that pension was not held-up, but there was delay in crediting the pension to their saving bank accounts.

He has shown a copy of order by which the Aadhaar card was made mandatory for pensioners has already been provided vide letter dated 05.08.2017, while responding to her applicant dated 05.07.2017. They denied the names of the pensioners whose pension was held up for want of Aadhaar card on the plea that this is personal information of third party.

It is a matter of life and living of 55 pensioners who were totally dependent upon the paltry amount of pension. Though it is a small amount even a day’s delay in payment might disturb the routine life of all or some of them. That is why the information relating to payment pension to retired persons should be considered and categorised as the information concerning the life and should have been responded within 48 hours.

Even if the appellant has not asked for immediate delivery of information, the CPIO, being a senior designated officer has a duty to consider this as information concerning the life and answer within 48 hours. it was not done. The public authority has a duty under contract as per Contract Act, Consumer Protection Act, Trusts Act and also under Right to Information Act to pay the pension in time, rectify the problem of delay promptly or give information immediately to the appellant or pensioners suffering like her.

The CPIO has chosen last i.e., 30th day to reply from date of RTI application. This reflects the CPIOs mental rigidity to sit over the file for 29 days doing nothing, just to make use of the facilitative provision. He simply ignored the phrase in section 7 that PIO shall ‘as expeditiously as possible’ but totally exploited ‘and in any case within thirty days’. The CPIO did not bother to examine whether this information could fall under category of “concerning life or liberty”.

It is inhuman for the CPIO to be so heartless about pensioners’ problems and request for information. The CPIO should have read umpteen number of the Commission orders explaining why such pension related information should have been given within 48 hours. The pensioner-applicant was asking for the list of 55 names of pensioners who suffered like her at the hands of post office.

How can that be ‘personal information’ and whose privacy the CPIO was protecting?  Postal authorities have a statutory duty to disclose full facts and circumstances along with reasons why they are linking Aadhaar with pension payment, why should they stop payment of pensions for the sake of such linking, why did they not provide for sufficient advanced information to the pensioners, whether such linking order has legal sanctity to be implemented without any advance notice, etc under Section 4(1)(c) and (d).

The Supreme Court Constitutional Bench led by HL Dattu, CJI, on 15th October 2015 WRIT PETITION (CIVIL) NO 494 OF 2012 between Justice K S Puttaswamy (Retd) and another v Union of India, held that citizens cannot be forced to produce his Aadhaar to avail themselves of government welfare schemes and benefits. It had even hinted that the government risked contempt of court if it chooses to continue to make the Aadhaar number a mandatory condition.

A petition filed by the All-Bengal Minority Students Council clearly exposed the defiance. The petition pointed to a letter addressed by the Centre to States and Union Territories to make Aadhaar a mandatory condition for applying for pre-matric, post-matric and merit-cum-means scholarship schemes. The letter, dated July 14, 2016, plainly directed that “submission of Aadhaar is mandatory” for students.

Staying the implementation of the letter recently, the court directed the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology to remove Aadhaar as a mandatory condition for student registration from its national scholarship portal. It stayed the instruction insisting on Aadhaar from government advertisements for the scholarship schemes.

On October 15 last year, the Constitution Bench had extended the voluntary use of Aadhaar cards to the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA), pensions schemes, Employee Provident Fund and the Prime Minister Jan Dhan Yojana. The Bench was modifying an August 2015 order restricting Aadhaar use to only PDS and LPG distribution.

Supreme Court on 15.12.2017 in WRIT PETITION (CIVIL) NO 494 OF 2012 between Justice K S Puttaswamy (Retd) and another v Union of India, stated:

The six schemes mentioned in the previous orders are the public distribution scheme (PDS), LPG distribution scheme, the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MGNREGS), National Social Assistance Programme (Old age pensions, widow pensions, disability pensions), the Prime Minister’s Jan Dhan Yojana (PMJDY) and Employees’ Provident Fund Organisation (EPFO).

The order also quotes Shyam Divan, senior counsel for the petitioners, as having urged that since the interim order dated March 15, 2015  governs the field, it was the obligation of the Centre to seek a variation of the interim directions after the enactment of the Aadhaar Act, 2016 before making it mandatory to uplink or provide details of the Unique Identification Number/Aadhaar card for all purposes.

Postal authorities are expected to explain under what legal authority they have directed the post offices to link their employer’s pension payments with the Aadhaar. CIC issued show cause notice and directed to provide information sought.

Based on decision in CIC/POSTS/A/2017/185367, N N Dhumane v. PIO, Department of Posts on 22nd February 2018)