New Delhi, January 21: Even as one of the five judges on the bench termed it a “constitutional error,” the Supreme Court by a majority verdict has dismissed a clutch of petitions seeking a review of its 2018 judgment that validated the Aadhaar Act.

By 4-1, a constitution bench affirmed the verdict delivered in September 2018 when the top court upheld the country’s biometric identity system and also cleared mandatory Aadhaar enrolment of recipients of government welfare benefits. The court, in its verdict, had also approved the passage of Aadhaar law by the Parliament as a money bill, which did not require an approval of the Rajya Sabha, the Hindustan Times reported.

The SC considered the bunch of review petitions in judges’ chambers on January 11. The court order was released on Wednesday, in which the five-judge bench, headed by Justice AM Khanwilkar, held that “no case for review” of the 2018 judgment was made out. Other judges signing off on the majority view were justices Ashok Bhushan, SA Nazeer and BR Gavai. Justice Dhananjaya Y Chandrachud disagreed and wrote a separate order, suggesting that any decision must wait for a larger bench to determine whether the Aadhaar verdict was correct in interpreting what could constitute a “money bill.” 

In split verdicts, the view of the majority holds.

“This is an interesting judgment. Even though one judge on the bench has dissented, the court did not allow a hearing in the open court for the lawyers to make arguments. Open court arguments, I feel, was imperative in this situation. We still have the legal remedy of moving a curative petition. We will consider this option in due course,” said Prasanna S, a lawyer associated with several petitioners in the matter.

The majority view refused to await a word from the larger bench, as it declined to take into account a subsequent judgment in 2019 by another five-judge bench. That bench had raised doubts on the correctness of the Aadhaar verdict, and preferred that a seven-judge-bench re-examine it. The seven-judge-bench is yet to be constituted.

The majority view in the Aadhaar case has said that the 2019 judgment was not sufficient to press for a reconsideration of the 2018 Aadhaar judgment.

“We hasten to add that change in the law or subsequent decision/judgment of a coordinate or larger bench by itself cannot be regarded as a ground for review. The review petitions are accordingly dismissed,” it held.

Justice Chandrachud dissented with the majority view and said that the 2019 judgment questioning the correctness of the Aadhaar verdict was a relevant fact and that the apex court must wait for the larger bench of seven judges to decide these pertinent issues.

“With the doubt expressed by another constitution bench on the correctness of the very decision which is the subject matter of these review petitions, it is a constitutional error to hold at this stage that no ground exists to review the judgment,” said Justice Chandrachud, who had in the 2018 judgment also held that Aadhaar could not have been passed as a money bill.

In his separate order, the judge added that dismissal of the review petitions without waiting for the larger bench’s decision would place a seal of finality on the issues in the present case, without the court having the benefit of the larger bench’s consideration of the very issues which arise before the bench.

Justice Chandrachud concluded: “As such, the present batch of review petitions should be kept pending until the larger bench decides the questions referred to it in Rojer Mathew (2019 case). In all humility, I conclude that the constitutional principles of consistency and the rule of law would require that a decision on the review petitions should await the reference to the larger bench.”

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