UIDAI Helped Eliminate Bogus Pensioners: AG

New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Wednesday questioned the Centre on its decision to link Aadhaar with pension, reasoning that it was not a subsidy but an entitlement of a person for years of service he/she has rendered to the gover nment.

Referring to the argument of the petitioners that many pensioners had been denied their only subsistence in old age due to technical and physical reasons, a bench of CJI Dipak Misra and Justices A K Sikri, A M Khanwilkar, D Y Chandrachud and Ashok Bhushan asked attorney general K K Venugopal if the Centre was going to deny them pension, a rightful entitlement, just for want of Aadhaar.

AG: If needed, govt will amend Aadhaar law

Attorney general Venugopal said Aadhaar had been instrumental in eliminating many bogus pensioners drawing the post-retirement benefits for years. Justice Sikri said, “Pension is an entitlement and not a benefit under the social welfare schemes. How is it included under Section 7 of the Aadhaar Act, 2016? Pension is a return for services rendered. There are many pensioners who live with their children who are settled abroad. Can such category of pensioners be told that they will not be granted pension unless they have an Aadhaar card?”

Justice Chandrachud said, “There is another category of persons who suffer from Alzheimer’s disease and may have serious dementia. There are those old persons whose biometrics do not match with the Aadhaar data. Where do they go? Pension is a rightful entitlement and not a bounty given by the state.” He said there were many instances where biometrics of manual labourers do not match, while in remote areas authentication fails due to lack of electricity or network connectivity. Should the beneficiaries be denied financial benefits, he asked, adding, “We’ll appreciate if the government can tell us upfront that there is a serious issue of financial exclusion. The cabinet secretariat had flagged this issue. The government must explain what steps have been taken to eliminate financial exclusion of legitimate beneficiaries.”

AG Venugopal said there was provision in the Aadhaar law not to deny social welfare benefits to even blind leprosy patients, who cannot provide either an iris scan or finger prints for Aadhaar. The method of their enrolment is different, he added. The AG said pension had a subsidy component and Aadhaar would authenticate the actual pensioner numbers. “We will know who are the actual beneficiaries. If in future it is required to amend the Aadhaar law, we will do that. But, for this reason the whole project need not be condemned.” He said no such person had alleged that they had been denied pension because of want of Aadhaar or their biometrics not matching Aadhaar data. “Unless they make an issue, we’ll really be groping in the dark to find a solution to a hypothetical problem,” he said.

The bench disagreed and asked, “Lot of people do not have the wherewithal to come to court, but can we shut our eyes to allegations about financial exclusion”.