Thought the Aadhaar issue was over with K.S. Puttaswamy judgment? Not yet. Here’s why

Supreme Court: On September 26, 2019, the 5-judge bench of former CJ Dipak Misra and A.K. Sikri, A.M. Khanwilkar, Dr D.Y. Chandrachud and Ashok Bhushan, JJ, ‘finally’ put an end to the Aadhaar dilemma in a 4:1 verdict and declared that the Aadhaar (Targeted Delivery of Financial and Other Subsidies, Benefits and Services) Act, 2016 was valid and not violative of the fundamental right to privacy. The Court also held that Section 7 was the core provision of the Aadhaar Act and since it satisfied the condition of Article 110 of the Constitution, the Aadhaar Act was validly passed as Money Bill.

Just over a year later, when another 5-judge bench sat to decide the validity of Finance Act, 2017 as a Money Bill, it realised that the Aadhaar issue might not just be over yet.

The 5-judge Constitution Bench of Ranjan Goigoi, CJ and NV Ramana, Dr. DY Chandrachud, Deepak Gupta and Sanjiv Khanna, JJ went through the the judgment in K.S. Puttaswamy v. Union of India (Aadhaar-5 Judge), (2019) 1 SCC 1 when both parties in the Finance Act validity case relied upon it.

After “extensively examining” the issue, the Bench noticed that the majority in K.S. Puttaswamy (Aadhaar-5) pronounced the nature of the Aadhaar Act, 2016 without first delineating the scope of Article 110(1) and principles for interpretation or the repercussions of such process. It, hence, said,

“It is clear to us that the majority dictum in K.S. Puttaswamy (Aadhaar-5) did not substantially discuss the effect of the word ‘only’ in Article 110(1) and offers little guidance on the repercussions of a finding when some of the provisions of an enactment passed as a “Money Bill” do not conform to Article 110(1)(a) to (g).”

In the Aadhaar-5 Verdict, referring to the definition of “Money Bill” and the meaning and purpose of the word ‘only’ used in Article 110(1) of the Constitution, Ashok Bhushan, J. had observed that legislative intent was that the main and substantive provision of an enactment should only be any or all of the sub-clauses from (a) to (f). In the event the main or substantive provisions of the Act are not covered by sub-clauses (a) to (f), the bill cannot be said to be a “Money Bill”. It was further observed that the use of the word ‘only’ in Article 110(1) has its purpose, which is clear restriction for a bill to be certified as a “Money Bill”. It was, hence, observed that the Aadhaar Act veers around the government’s constitutional obligation to provide for subsidies, benefits and services to individuals and other provisions are only incidental provisions to the main provision. Therefore, the Aadhaar Bill was rightly certified by the Speaker as a “Money Bill.

It is pertinent to note that Chandrachud, J was the lone dissenting judge in the 4:1 Aadhaar-5 verdict and he was also the part of the 5-judge bench that referred the issue of validity of Finance Act being passed as Money Bill to a 7-judge bench. In his minority opinion in the Aadhaar-5 verdict, Chandrachud, J had, referring to the word ‘only’ in Article 110(1) of the Constitution, observed that the pith and substance doctrine which is applicable to legislative entries would not apply when deciding the question whether or not a particular bill is a “Money Bill”. He had held,

“the Money Bill must deal with the declaration of any expenditure to be charged on the Consolidated Fund of India (or increasing the amount of expenditure) and, therefore, Section 7 of the Aadhaar Act did not have the effect of making the bill a Money Bill as it did not declare the expenditure incurred on services, benefits or subsidies to be a charge on the Consolidated Fund of India.”

Noticing that the majority judgment in K.S. Puttaswamy (Aadhaar-5) did not elucidate and explain the scope and ambit of sub-clauses (a) to (f) to clause (1) of Article 110 of the Constitution, a legal position and facet which arises for consideration in the present case and assumes considerable importance, the Court, held

“Given the various challenges made to the scope of judicial review and interpretative principles (or lack thereof) as adumbrated by the majority in K.S. Puttaswamy (Aadhaar-5) and the substantial precedential impact of its analysis of the Aadhaar Act, 2016, it becomes essential to determine its correctness. Being a Bench of equal strength as that in K.S. Puttaswamy (Aadhaar-5), we accordingly direct that this batch of matters be placed before Hon’ble the Chief Justice of India, on the administrative side, for consideration by a larger Bench.”

[Roger Mathew v. South India Bank Ltd.,  2019 SCC OnLine SC 1456, decided on 13.11.2019]


Read the full report on 2018 Aadhaar Judgment here.

Read the full report on the Finance Act judgment here

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