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The debate over linking Aadhaar with mobile phone numbers continues. In a recent development, the Department of Telecommunications (DoT) reportedly stated that telecom companies will not act against unverified subscribers until the Supreme Court (SC) decides on the issue of linking mobile phone numbers with Aadhaar.

As per an ET Report, DoT Secretary Aruna Sundararajan said the government will not disconnect mobile connections of people who do not authenticate their identities with Aadhaar as the department is waiting for SC judgement on the same.

The apex court is scheduled to hear the mobile-Aadhaar linking issue on November 13.

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The DoT had ordered telecom companies in March this year to carry out biometric authentication of customers after SC ruled in February Supreme Court said in February that all phone numbers in India should have verified users.

However as the debate over the use of Aadhaar intensified over aspects of privacy and protection of personal data, a nine-judge bench of the apex court unanimously ruled in August this year that privacy is a fundamental right of Indians. The judgement gave a huge setback to the government’s Aadhaar policy. Post this judgment, a five-judge bench of the Supreme Court was set up to test the validity of Aadhaar from the aspect of privacy as a fundamental right. The bench will hear several petitions challenging the validity of the Act. One of them is the recent petition by feminist scholar Kalyani Menon Sen, who challenged the constitutional validity of the decision of RBI to making linkage of bank accounts with Aadhaar mandatory on grounds of violation of right to privacy.

In addition to challenging the RBI order, the petition also challenged the validity of the March 23 circular issued by the department of telecommunication making it mandatory for citizens to link their mobile phones with Aadhaar. Kalyani further stated that both decisions violated an individual’s right to privacy and, hence, are unconstitutional.

Meanwhile the Supreme Court today refused to entertain a plea filed by a Trinamool Congress MLA challenging the linking of bank accounts with Aadhaar saying it cannot entertain thousands of pleas raising similar issue. The court however, permitted TMC MLA Mahua Moitra to file an application for impleadment as a party in the pending matters which are scheduled to come up before an SC bench in the last week of this month.

The bench will hear several petitions challenging the validity of the Act and Sen’s petition gets added to that list. One should also note that the verdict did not comment on whether the government’s demand for Aadhaar to be linked to all financial transactions amounts is an infringement of privacy.  Till a decision on these petitions is reached, it looks like Aadhaar remains as it is. Hence in this light, the decision by Department of Telecommunications (DoT) to wait for the Supreme Court judgement on linking Aadhaar with mobile numbers seems rational given the whole debate around it. Moreover one should keep in mind that DoT’s order about linking with Aadhaar is a violation of SC orders in August and October of 2015, which clearly stated that Aadhaar enrolment is optional. It appears that the final word from the apex court is a much awaited one to settle the matter for once and all.

[The development was first reported by ET]

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