Aadhar bill passed in Lok Sabha after rejection of amendments introduced in Rajya Sabha

NEW DELHI(PTI): A bill to give statutory backing to the unique identity number scheme for better targetting of subsidies was on Wednesday returned by Rajya Sabha to the Lok Sabha with several amendments, with Opposition parties also objecting strongly to treating it as a money bill. The Lok Sabha on Wednesday evening passed the Aadhar bill after rejecting five amendments introduced in Rajya Sabha.

The amendments to the Aadhar (Targeted Delivery of Financial and other subsidies, benefits and services) Bill, 2016, moved by Congress leader and former Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh, were passed in Rajya Sabha with a majority voting in favour. The ruling BJP-led NDA does not have majority in the House. Members of BSP, TMC and BJD also walked out of the House raising objections on several issues concerning the measure.

‘ Why Aadhar brought as money bill’

The process of return of the bill saw an animated debate over why it was brought as a money bill, with a number of opposition members also raising concern over privacy and national security on the biometric data of Indians so collected through the scheme. Brushing aside the objections by the Opposition, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley said the Aadhar Bill was a money bill as it dealt with the way public money or subsidy will be distributed among the needy under various government schemes.
Moving the Bill in Rajya Sabha, Jaitley said Parliament cannot abdicate its right to legislate just because the issue is pending in the Supreme Court. The Minister also emphasised that the present bill was different from the one brought by the UPA government as it had further tightened the privacy provisions with regard to sharing of information of individuals collected by the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI).
Several Opposition members including Sitaram Yechury (CPI-M), Jairam Ramesh (Cong), Naresh Agrawal (SP) and K C Tyagi (JD-U) among others, opposed the government’s decision to label the Aadhar bill as a money bill. Refuting the objections in a debate marred by acrimony, Jaitley said the Lok Sabha Speaker had the final authority under the Constitution to declare a bill as money bill and nobody can question that. The Lok Sabha has passed the bill on March 11.

Jaitley explains

“One, the purpose of this bill is distribution of government money by subsidies and the rest is incidental, so it is a money bill. Two, merely because the executive action is challenged and pending in the Supreme Court, the powers of Parliament cannot suspend the right to legislate. Three, learning from UPA’s experience, we have further tightened privacy laws much more than the UPA had in its bill,” he said.
Speaking about the Aadhar bill, Ramesh said it was because of “small mercies” that a debate had taken place over it. The Congress leader said the major use of Aadhar should be that it could be used to improve the way subsidy is distributed to curb leakages, but it should not determine who is eligible for for subsidy.
Ramesh said while much has been made out by the Finance Minister about Rs 14,000 crore savings in the distribution of LPG subsidies because of Aadhar based DBT, the findings of a London-based think tank suggest otherwise. He said while the present Bill is better in some respects than the one brought by UPA in 2010, it is silent on other aspects. He said he had overall nine objections to the Bill, a number for which Jaitley had shown much fascination in the budget.

Opposition unimpressed

He said that during the UPA regime, there was scepticism over Aadhar even among the National Advisory Council (NAC) but his party leaders Sonia and Rahul Gandhi, and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had remained firm. Ramesh said while the government had provided the opposition with “fait accompli”, it should have rather been sent to a Select Committee headed by a BJP member like Anil Madhav Dave or Bhupendra Yadav and better bill could have been come up with.

Speaking after Ramesh, BJP member Chandan Mitra said the Congress leader had on one occasion mentioned that criticism of Aadhar could get anyone labelled as ‘anti-national’, which reflected the paranoia of the opposition. Naresh Agarwal (SP) said the government’s action of bringing the Bill as a Money Bill raised suspicions. He too suggested that the Bill should be sent to a Select Committee.
Opposing making of Aadhar mandatory, he said questions could be raised about citizenship of several people. K G Tyagi of JD(U) raised questions about the safety of data saying it could reach CIA or Mossad. He also referred to the Nazi regime in Germany and said it had introduced cards to identify Jews.

‘Security concerns addressed’

Earlier when the Aadhar bill was introduced by Jaitley, Yechury raised a point of order and sought to know why the government was in “haste” to legislate when a five-member bench of Supreme Court is seized of the matter.
“This is actually, I suspect, it is a method of trying to subvert the judicial verdict, which is something not acceptable to me. On these two grounds, the bill is beyond the legislative capacity of the House,” he said.
To this, Vice Chairman P J Kurien said “the bill is transmitted by the Lok Sabha. At this point, legislative competence does not arise. On the basis of point of order, I cannot reject the bill. The reason is that the bill is passed in the Lok Sabha. So, we are bound to consider it.” Responding to queries of various members on the bill, Jaitley said, “One argument raised is that five-member bench of Supreme Court is considering the issue and therefore Parliament may suspend the power to legislate. It is an unprecedented argument, particularly in a democracy which is governed by the separation of powers.”

“The power to legislate belongs to Parliament. The power to legislate does not belong to courts. And therefore, the court only has power of judicial review before a legislation is framed, hold your hands and don’t legislate is anunprecedented argument,” he said. Maintaining that the Supreme Court was looking at “theoretical” questions relating to the right of privacy, Jaitley said the present law has much tighter norms to protect the privacy of individual as compared to the one framed by the UPA government.

The present law restricts sharing details of UID holder on two occasions. The details can be shared by consent of the person but biometric details cannot be shared even with his consent, he said. However the UPA law provided for sharing data under special circumstances. “We are made to share only when it is of national security issue,” he added. “I am not criticising the UPA law. Since it was the beginning of a thought process, then you need that unique identity number for some purpose and obviously there was some gap. The present law is completely different. I borrow the complete idea from the UPA law, that you need an unique identify number. To that extent, I give all credit to them.

That is an idea which was rightly created,” the Minister said. The unique identify number will help in better targeting of crores of government subsidies, he added. “If subsidies are given to unquantified and unidentified sections, then non-merit people will get the subsidy. Centre and states assist people some way or the other by way of subsidy. You are entitled to take UID if you want the benefit of subsidy,” Jaitley said.
He said the US had passed a similar law in 1935 and India is behind the time. When the Chair asked Yechury to speak first on the bill, Naresh Agarwal (SP), JD-U’s K C Tyagi and Derek O Brien (TMC) objected and insisted that they should also be allowed to speak. Kurien said, “Chair always has right to call any member.

I called him because he has raised objection while introducing the bill…..If Chair cannot control the House, you can do it” and objected to the “questioning the authority of the Chair”. During the short debate on the bill later, the Rajya Sabha witnessed sharp exchanges when Congress leader Jairam Ramesh accused Jaitley of giving wrong information that a Bill on Juvenile Justice and another on African Development Bank, had been brought as Money Bill by the government in 1980s. Quoting information from the Rajya Sabha Secretariat, Ramesh said these two measures were not money bills.