Binoy Visam vs. UOI (Aadhaar Card Linkage With PAN) (Supreme Court)
June, 13th 2017
S. 139AA (inserted by the Finance Act 2017) which mandates quoting of Aadhaar number with the PAN is constitutionally valid under Articles 14 and 19(1)(g). The proviso to s. 139AA(2) (which deems the PAN void ab initio if the Aadhaar number is not quoted) is also valid. However, as the challenge under Article 21 is pending before the Constitution Bench, a partial stay is granted. Those who are already enrolled under the Aadhaar scheme should comply with s. 139AA (2). Those who are not enrolled need not do so for the time being and their PAN will not be treated as invalid. The said proviso to s. 139AA(2) cannot be read retrospectively as it takes away vested rights. It will only have prospective effect
Section 139AA of the Income Tax Act, 1961, inserted by the amendment to the said Act vide Finance Act, 2017, makes it clear that in the application forms for allotment of Permanent Account Number (for short, ‘PAN’) as well as in the income-tax returns, the assessee is obliged to quote Aadhaar number. This is necessitated on any such applications for PAN or return of income on or after July 01, 2017, which means from that date quoting of Aadhaar number for the aforesaid purposes becomes essential. Proviso to sub-section (1) gives relaxation from quoting Aadhaar number to those persons who do not possess Aadhaar number but have already applied for issuance of Aadhaar card. In their cases, the Enrolment ID of Aadhaar application form is to be quoted. It would mean that those who would not be possessing Aadhaar card as on July 01, 2017 may have to necessarily apply for enrolment of Aadhaar before July 01, 2017.
The effect of Section 139AA, thus, is that every person who desires to obtain PAN card or who is an assessee has to necessarily enrol for Aadhaar. It makes obtaining of Aadhaar card compulsory for those persons who are income-tax assessees. Proviso to sub-section (2) of Section 139AA of the Act stipulates the consequences of failure to intimate the Aadhaar number. In those cases, PAN allotted to such persons would become invalid not only from July 01, 2017, but from its inception as the deeming provision in this proviso mentions that PAN would be invalid as if the person had not applied for allotment of PAN, i.e. from the very beginning. Sub-section (3), however, gives discretion to the Central Government to exempt such person or class or classes of persons or any State or part of any State from the requirement of quoting Aadhaar number in the application form for PAN or in the return of income.
Writ Petitions were filed to challenge the constitutional validity of Section 139AA. The challenge is to this compulsive nature of provision inasmuch as with the introduction of the aforesaid provision, no discretion is left with the income-tax assessees insofar as enrolment under the Aadhaar (Targeting Delivery of Financial and Other Subsidies, Benefits and Services) Act, 2016 (hereinafter referred to as the ‘Aadhaar Act’) is concerned. According to the petitioners, though Aadhaar Act prescribes that enrolment under the said Act is voluntary and gives choice to a person to enrol or not to enrol himself and obtain Aadhaar card, this compulsive element thrusted in Section 139AA of the Act makes the said provision unconstitutional. The basis on which the petitioners so contend would be taken note of at the appropriate stage. Purpose of these introductory remarks was to highlight the issue involved in these writ petitions at the threshold.
HELD by the Supreme Court:
(i) We hold that the Parliament was fully competent to enact Section 139AA of the Act and its authority to make this law was not diluted by the orders of this Court.
(ii) We do not find any conflict between the provisions of Aadhaar Act and Section 139AA of the Income Tax Act inasmuch as when interpreted harmoniously, they operate in distinct fields.
(iii) Section 139AA of the Act is not discriminatory nor it offends equality clause enshrined in Article 14 of the Constitution.
(iv) Section 139AA is also not violative of Article 19(1)(g) of the Constitution insofar as it mandates giving of Aadhaar enrollment number for applying PAN cards in the income tax returns or notified Aadhaar enrollment number to the designated authorities. Further, proviso to sub-section (2) thereof has to be read down to mean that it would operate only prospective.
(v) The validity of the provision upheld in the aforesaid manner is subject to passing the muster of Article 21 of the Constitution, which is the issue before the Constitution Bench in Writ Petition (Civil) No. 494 of 2012 and other connected matters. Till then, there shall remain a partial stay on the operation of proviso to sub-section (2) of Section 139AA of the Act, as described above.
(vi) Having said so, it becomes clear from the aforesaid discussion that those who are not PAN holders, while applying for PAN, they are required to give Aadhaar number. This is the stipulation of sub-section (1) of Section 139AA, which we have already upheld. At the same time, as far as existing PAN holders are concerned, since the impugned provisions are yet to be considered on the touchstone of Article 21 of the Constitution, including on the debate around Right to Privacy and human dignity, etc. as limbs of Article 21, we are of the opinion that till the aforesaid aspect of Article 21 is decided by the Constitution Bench a partial stay of the aforesaid proviso is necessary. Those who have already enrolled themselves under Aadhaar scheme would comply with the requirement of sub-section (2) of Section 139AA of the Act. Those who still want to enrol are free to do so. However, those assessees who are not Aadhaar card holders and do not comply with the provision of Section 139(2), their PAN cards be not treated as invalid for the time being. It is only to facilitate other transactions which are mentioned in Rule 114B of the Rules. We are adopting this course of action for more than one reason. We are saying so because of very severe consequences that entail in not adhering to the requirement of sub-section (2) of Section 139AA of the Act. A person who is holder of PAN and if his PAN is invalidated, he is bound to suffer immensely in his day to day dealings, which situation should be avoided till the Constitution Bench authoritatively determines the argument of Article 21 of the Constitution. Since we are adopting this course of action, in the interregnum, it would be permissible for the Parliament to consider as to whether there is a need to tone down the effect of the said proviso by limiting the consequences.
(vii) However, at the same time, we find that proviso to Section 139AA(2) cannot be read retrospectively. If failure to intimate the Aadhaar number renders PAN void ab initio with the deeming provision that the PAN allotted would be invalid as if the person had not applied for allotment of PAN would have rippling effect of unsettling settled rights of the parties. It has the effect of undoing all the acts done by a person on the basis of such a PAN. It may have even the effect of incurring other penal consequences under the Act for earlier period on the ground that there was no PAN registration by a particular assessee. The rights which are already accrued to a person in law cannot be taken away. Therefore, this provision needs to be read down by making it clear that it would operate prospectively.