Citizens cannot be forced to produce their Aadhaar to receive Government welfare schemes and benefits

Central Information Commission: The Commission recently dealt with a second appeal wherein the appellant contended that after having taken voluntary retirement from the post office, even though she was supposed to receive her on the 1st of every month, that was not the case when in March 2017, her pension was withheld for want of linkage of her Aadhaar to her pension account along with 55 other such similarly situated pensioners. She mentioned that the CPIO and the FAA had held back information which she sought, regarding the names of all the other pensioners whose pensions were withheld owing to the same reason forwarded to her as the authorities under the grab of Section 8(1)(j) of the RTI Act, 2005 refused to give out personal information which the appellant believed to be an unsatisfactory reply. The appellant also sought a copy of the order wherein it said that Aadhaar is necessary for payment of pension since that had not been produced to her yet.

Prof. M. Sridhar Acharyulu, sitting for the Commission, observed that pension “is a matter of life and living” for pensioners who are “totally dependent upon the paltry amount of pension”. Hence, information which relates to pension should be treated as information concerning life and hence, response should be given within 48 hours. Special mention was afforded to Section 7 of the RTI Act wherein it has been mentioned that the PIO shall “as expeditiously as possible” give out the information sought which was not done in the present case. Further on, the Commission notes that it is a duty under the Contract Act, Consumer Protection Act, Trusts Act and also the Right to Information Act to pay timely pension or to rectify any problem relating to payment of pension to relieve the pensioner of any suffering arising out of the delay/ non-payment of pension. The Commission held that the postal authorities have a statutory duty to disclose the reasons behind their demand of linking the Aadhaar with pension payment and withholding payment of pension on not doing so. The Commission referred to K.S Puttaswamy v. Union of India, (2015) 10 SCC 92 wherein the Court held that citizens cannot be forced to produce their Aadhaar to receive government welfare scheme benefits. This Court had further clarified in its order dated 15/12/2017 that such a compulsion couldn’t be made since that was in contravention of the citizens’ fundamental rights.

As for the issue of not presenting the appellant with the names of all the other people whose pension had been withheld on the same grounds as the appellants, the Commission did not think of such information being “personal information” which the CPIO would have to protect. The Commission thus directed the CPIO to show-cause why maximum penalty should not be imposed upon him for the wrongful reasons given by him in his reply and why the postal authority should not be ordered to pay compensation to the appellant for causing delay, loss and harassment to her in the entire process. Additionally, the Commission directed the respondent authority to provide the certified copies of the orders by which the other employees’ pension had been delayed along with their names. [N.N. Dhumane v. PIO, Department of Posts, 2018 SCC OnLine CIC 21, order dated 27.2.2018]

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