Linking Aadhaar to bank accounts and mobile phone numbers is no longer mandatory after the Cabinet gave its approval to amend certain existing laws. The Supreme Court has stated that while Aadhaar is constitutionally valid, it is not mandatory for all services.
The government has given the nod to amend laws for voluntary use of Aadhaar to open a bank account and get a mobile connection. The move came after Section 57 of the Aadhaar Act was struck down by the Supreme Court. Section 57 was a provision that allowed private bodies to ask customers for their Aadhaar details. This allowed telecom companies, e-commerce firms, banks, etc. to ask consumers for their biometric and Aadhaar data.
The Cabinet has given its approval to amend the Telegraph Act and the Prevention of Money Laundering Act (PMLA). This followed a Supreme Court judgment in September, 2018 that restricted private firms from using Aadhaar information. As a result of the verdict, customers can now voluntarily share their 12-digit Aadhaar number for obtaining new mobile connections and opening bank accounts. It was earlier mandatory to link Aadhaar to bank account, mobile number and a host of services. It should, however, be noted that linkage of PAN with Aadhaar will continue to be mandatory for filing of income tax returns. Additionally, the 12-digit number will continue to be necessary for availing benefits under government-run welfare schemes and subsidies.
Besides the above amendments, the bill proposes a civil penalty of up to Rs. 1 crore on firms breaching the provisions of the Aadhaar Act. An additional penalty of up to Rs. 10 lakh per day shall apply for continuous non-compliance. The government has also proposed a jail term of up to ten years for attempting to hack Aadhaar data, news sources suggest. The punishment for this offence is currently three years. The law may also be amended to make the UIDAI an independent authority, with powers similar to that of other regulatory bodies.