Judgment in Plain English

Aadhaar Review

On September 26th 2018, a five-judge bench upheld the constitutionality of the Aadhaar Act in a 4:1 judgment. Some provisions were read down. Justice Chandrachud dissented. He reasoned that the entire Act did not stand the test of constitutional validity.

Seven parties filed review petitions under Article 137 of the Constitution of India, 1950. They argued that the judgment is erroneous and failed to consider key evidence. A new five-judge bench consisting of Justices A.M. KhanwilkarD.Y. ChandrachudAshok BhushanS Abdul Nazeer and B.R. Gavai heard the matter in chambers on January 11th 2021.

On January 20th 2021, the constitution bench in a 4:1 judgment dismissed the review petition. The majority opinion did not delve into the merits of the case: Instead, it noted that a ‘change in the law or subsequent decision/judgment of a coordinate or larger Bench’ by itself would not constitute a ground for review. The majority opinion was referring to Rojer Mathew v South Indian Bank which had raised concerns about the 2018 Aadhaar judgment.

Justice Chandrachud in his dissent argued that the review petition must not be dismissed at the current stage.

The 2018 Aadhaar judgment had to answer two key questions. First whether the decision of the Speaker of the House of the People to categorise a bill as ‘Money Bill’ is final or can it be judicially reviewed. Second whether the Aadhaar Act had been validly certified as a ‘Money Bill’.

The majority opinion on the first question was that under certain circumstances, which may involve violation of the Constitution, a Money Bill can be judicially reviewed. On the Aadhaar Act, the majority concluded that it had ‘elements’ of a Money Bill and as such the certification was valid.

Subsequently, a similar question regarding the scope of judicial review of Money Bill arose in Rojer Mathew. This case challenged the Finance Act, 2017 and asked if it was correctly certified as a Money Bill. The five-judge bench led by the then CJI Ranjan Gogoi believed that the scope of judicial review of Money Bill was not ‘substantially discussed’ in the 2018 Aadhaar judgment. And it ‘liberally’ interpreted, without ‘convinced reasoning’ the Aadhaar Act as a Money Bill. Hence the Court could not use the judgment as a binding precedent in Rojer Mathew. Instead, it went on to refer the question of judicial review of Money Bill to a larger seven-judge bench. This bench is yet to be set-up.

In this context – of a similar strength bench doubting the correctness of the judgment and a future seven-judge bench’s determination impacting the judgment – J. Chandrachud argued that it would be a ‘constitutional error’ to dismiss the review petition.