The National Democratic Alliance (NDA) Government on Thursday introduced the Aadhaar (Targeted Delivery of Financial and Other Subsidies, Benefits and Services) Bill, 2016, in the Lok Sabha as a money bill, amidst opposition from Congress and the Biju Janata Dal.
Read the Bill here
The Bill seeks to provide statutory basis to Aadhaar, providing for “good governance, efficient, transparent, and targeted delivery of subsidies, benefits and services”, from public funds, to the citizens through assigning of unique identity numbers to them. The legislative backing would enable the use of this identification number for better targeting of subsidies. Parliamentary Affairs Minister M. Venkaiah Naidu claimed that this would save Rs 20,000 crore by avoiding subsidies being taken by undeserving.
The National Identification Authority of India Bill, 2010 is already pending in the Rajya Sabha. A Standing Committee on Finance chaired by Yashwant Sinha had detected certain deficiencies in the 2010 Bill, and had recommended the Government to reconsider the Unique Identification Scheme. So far, more than 98 crore Aadhaar numbers have been generated, of which 16.5 crore are PAHAL beneficiaries, while Aadhaar numbers have been seeded in 11.19 crore accounts. The PAHAL scheme provides for Direct Benefit Transfer of LPG (DBTL) to the consumer.
Last year, a Supreme Court bench comprising Justice J. Chelameswar, Justice S.A. Bobde and Justice C. Nagappan had allowed the use of Aadhaar cards also for MNREGA, Jan Dhan Yojana, pension and provident fund schemes, along with public distribution system and LPG subsidy. The Court had clarified that linking of Aadhaar for providing these services will only be on voluntary basis and no person shall be deprived of any benefit for want of Aadhaar. The two orders can be read here and here.
On the question of violation of the SC ruling by the Bill, Government officials have responded in the negative. “After the law is passed, the basis on which the Supreme Court had given the ruling will itself not be there… There was a legislative vacuum, the bill when passed will fill that gap,” the official was quoted as saying. There was nothing which said how the data will be protected or what punishment will be given in case of a breach, etc. Once there is a law, it spells out all details so that all concerns of the court are addressed, he added.
However, Congress leader Mallikarjun Kharge expressed doubts over presentation of the bill as a money bill. “Congress is ready to cooperate on the bill, but it should not come as a money bill. To avoid Rajya Sabha, they are bringing this bill as a money bill,” he was quoted as saying.Congress Spokesperson Anand Sharma also chimed in, claiming that this was done to bypass the system of checks and balances that is an integral part of our democratic working. “During his election speeches, the PM used to say that he would abolish the Aadhaar card. Now we wish to know what has changed his mind,” he added.
Biju Janata Dal leader Bhartruhari Mahtab also sought clarification about the Bill, saying, “The bill was brought by the UPA government and then it was referred to the standing committee. Lots of recommendations were also made but I don't know the status of the bill in the Rajya Sabha. There are many contentious issues related to Aadhaar number and so the matter was also referred to the Supreme Court.”
CPM General Secretary Sitaram Yechury also expressed disapproval over the move and said, “It is not a money bill. The whole Rajya Sabha has taken that position. The position is that you cannot decide on money bills according to your own whims and fancies. My personal view is there is one clause in the Constitution, which stipulates that in the case of a dispute over a money bill, the ruling of the Speaker is final and binding. That clause is what is being misused today. So, personally in my opinion that clause should go from the Constitution…You find another adjudicating authority because the Speaker of the Lok Sabha, unlike the Chairman of the Rajya Sabha, is one of the elected members of Parliament. Elected on the ticket of one particular political party. And if that political party forms the government then you will always have such predicaments.”
The procedure prescribed for passing a money bill requires that the Rajya Sabha return it to the Lok Sabha with recommendations within 14 days, after which the lower house can either accept or reject those recommendations. The Rajya Sabha then cannot block this bill in any manner. Article 111 of the Indian Constitution also prevents the President from returning a Money Bill back to the Parliament for reconsideration.
Responding to the opposition, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley asserted that the Bill falls within the textbook definition of money bill, and reminded Congress of bills dealing with subjects like juvenile justice and workman injury compensation, which were introduced as money bills when it was in power.
Mr. Jaitley expressed hope that the Bill will be passed in the ongoing budget session. “I hope to see it through this session. It is an important law that can rationalize subsidies. The whole dispute about privacy set aside, it’s a certification that ensures nobody claims money twice,” he was quoted as saying.
He addressed the privacy concerns as well, relying on Clause 9 of the Bill which states that the Aadhaar number or the authentication thereof shall not, by itself, confer any right of, or be proof of, citizenship or domicile.
The “Statement of Object and Reasons” section of the bill states that “correct identification of targeted beneficiaries” of social programmes has become a “challenge” for the government. Linked to this is the problem of corruption and theft of welfare handouts. The bill states: “In the absence of a credible system to authenticate the identification of beneficiaries, it is difficult to ensure that subsidies, benefits and services reach the intended household.”
The Bill provides that the information will be an electronic record and will be classified as “sensitive personal data or information” as per the provisions of the Information Technology Act. All such information could be stored in a centralized database of biometrics, the Central Identities Data Repository. Special provisions have been chalked out for issuing numbers to women, nomadic tribes, street dwellers, senior citizens, persons with disability and unskilled and unorganized workers.
It mandates the enrolling agency to inform the individual undergoing enrolment on how the data will be used and with whom it will be shared and the fact that the individual can also access such information. While institutions have been allowed to authenticate the identity of a person after paying a fee, it cannot be done without the consent of the Aadhaar number holder. The UIDAI will not only take all appropriate technical measures but also ensure that any agency it hires will follow these security measures.
In case of national security, the information is to be disclosed only by orders of an officer not below the rank of Joint Secretary, and that an “oversight committee” would review each such decision. The Committee would comprise of the Cabinet Secretary and the Secretaries in the Department of legal Affairs and Department of Electronics and Information Technology.
It imposes imprisonment of up to three years and fine of Rs. 10, 000 (Rs. 1, 00,000 in case of a company), for disclosing or sharing of the core biometric information. Penalties have also been provided for impersonation, unauthorized access and tampering of data in the repository.