Madras High Court: A writ petition filed challenging a Government order dated 06-10-2022, directing for Aadhaar authentication services in the Tamil Nadu Generation and Distribution Corporation Ltd. (‘TANGED Co.’), for availing the electricity subsidy, the Division Bench of T. Raja, acting CJ. and D. Bharatha Chakravarth, J. held that there is no illegality in the impugned Government order, as the Aadhaar authentication is required from such persons who want to avail the benefits under social welfare schemes, paid out of the Consolidated Fund of the State.
In the case at hand, the grievance was that TANGED Co. provides electricity connections to domestic consumers and multiple dwelling units in the same address having individual meters. As per the tariff approved by the Tamil Nadu Electricity Regulatory Commission, the subsidy is given up to 100 units. While so, by the impugned Government order, the Aadhaar authentication process is carried out. If the Aadhaar is not linked, the bill payment will not be accepted. If the respondents go ahead with the mandatory linking of Aadhaar, in spite of the scheme that multiple dwelling units in the same address be provided with separate connections with subsidy, the users of the separate dwelling units namely, the tenants/lessees, will be deprived of the benefit of subsidy, as normally the additional connections are also taken in the name of the owner and if his Aadhaar is linked, the benefit of the subsidy will be restricted to only one connection.
The Court said that as per Section 7 of the Aadhaar Act, 2016, the Central Government or the State Government, for the purpose of establishing identity of an individual as a condition for receipt of a subsidy or benefit for which the expenditure is incurred, forms part of the Consolidated Fund of India or the Consolidated Fund of the State, are enabled to require that such individual undergo authentication or furnish proof of possession of Aadhaar number.
The Court noted that the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) has also issued a circular requiring the appropriate governments which plan to use Aadhaar for delivery of subsides, to publish a notification under Section 7 of the Act read with Regulation 12 for wide publicity. Therefore, it said that the above Government order was passed approving the publication of the notification in the Gazette.
Placing reliance on Justice K.S. Puttaswamy (Aadhaar-5J.) v. Union of India, (2019) 1 SCC 1, wherein it was held that “Aadhaar authentication cannot be insisted upon only to such of the benefits earned by the individual and can be insisted upon for welfare schemes under which benefits, subsidies, or services provided to intended recipients.”, and said that the schemes, as mentioned in the notification contained in the annexure to the impugned Government order, clearly qualify the above parameters under Section 7 of the Aadhaar Act and the dictum in K.S. Puttaswamy (supra).
The Court said that the apprehension expressed by the petitioner relating to tenants is unfounded, as there is nothing in the impugned Government order and the notification regarding the actual scheme of subsidy. Further, the clauses in the notification do not alter or deal with the scheme as such. Thus, it was held that, whoever is entitled to the subsidy under the scheme is not deprived of by the impugned order, as the scheme relating to grant of subsidy for 100 units, is based on the domestic consumer connection and therefore, the apprehension is unfounded.
Further, in respect of the individuals who do not possess Aadhaar number, the Court said that, if they still want to avail the benefit, provision is given to enroll for Aadhar, and enrolment identity slip can also be provided to continue to avail the subsidy.
[M.L. Ravi v. Additional Chief Secretary to Government, 2022 SCC OnLine Mad 6038, decided on 21-12-2022]
Advocates who appeared in this case :
For Petitioner: Advocate T. Sivaganansambandan;
For Respondents: Advocate R. Shunmugasundaram;
Advocate General assisted by State Government Pleader P. Muthukumar;
Senior Counsel P.S. Raman.
*Apoorva Goel, Editorial Assistant has reported this brief.