New Delhi: Parliamentary approval was on Wednesday accorded to the Aadhaar bill with the Lok Sabha again passing the bill without any of the amendments suggested by the Rajya Sabha which had returned the bill after a heated discussion.
The Aadhaar (Targeted Delivery of Financial and Other Subsidies, Benefits and Services) Bill, 2016 was passed by the Lok Sabha by voice vote after all the amendments were negated and Finance Minister Arun Jaitley sought to allay the opposition’s apprehensions on the bill.
The Congress and other opposition parties had made a strong pitch against the overall nature of the bill in the Rajya Sabha, where the government is in minority, and the bill was returned to the Lok Sabha with amendments.
Speaking in the Lok Sabha after CPI-M member Mohammad Salim referred to the amendments approved by the upper house, Jaitley said one of these sought to replace the words “national security” with “public safety and public emergency” but noted these phrases had not been defined in the constitution.
“Though I consider the wisdom of the upper house but I reject their amendments,” he added.
The Aadhaar bill was brought as a money bill with respect to which the Rajya Sabha has limited powers and cannot amend but only suggest amendments.
The debate on the bill in the upper house saw a heated debate as opposition members questioned the decision to convert it into a money bill.
The government saw an embarrassing defeat in its efforts to stop the amendments – the second time in this session. Earlier, the opposition forced an amendment in the motion of thanks to the president’s speech, even after Prime Minister Modi urged them to pass it unanimously.
The amendments passed on Wednesday included on enrolment under Aadhaar (clause 3), mandatory use for government services and subsidies (clause 7), disclosing information in the interest of national security (clause 33) and allowing private persons to use Aadhaar (clause 57).
The opposition had recommended that Aadhaar be made voluntary, disclosure of information should be permitted in the interest of public safety or public emergency, instead of national security, and the clause allowing private persons to use Aadhaar be deleted.
“I don’t have an Aadhaar number and I don’t need one, because I am not a beneficiary of subsidy, but tomorrow if I want a mobile connection, the guys say ‘Where is your Aadhaar number! You made it mandatory no!” said Congress member Jairam Ramesh, who had moved all the four amendments that were passed.
Jaitley, however, held that Aadhaar was not mandatory and where people don’t have it, alternative documents will be prescribed, while the user would be predominantly the state government.
“Tomorrow if Tamil Nadu government decides that people below a certain income would get some benefits then it is mandatory if you want benefits,” he said, giving an example.
Assuring that there are provisions for ensuring privacy, he said that personal information of a person would be shared only on basis of his consent, and the “core biometric data” will not be shared even if there is consent.
“The only ground on which data can be shared is national security. One authority will be created in Delhi,” he said, adding that the decision of that authority will be reviewed by an authority headed by the cabinet secretary.
On it being made a money bill, he said: “Article 110 decides what a money bill is. If money flows into consolidated fund of India and money flows out of consolidated fund of India, and a law yields with that matter it becomes a money bill.”
“Article 110(3) says clearly it is satisfaction of speaker of Lok Sabha that is final… Once the speaker satisfies herself and says I certify it is a money bill, it will be a money bill and no authority in the country can question that provision,” he said.
He also rejected Communist Party of India-Marxist leader Sitaram Yechury’s argument that government was being hasty in bringing the law as a five-member bench of Supreme Court is looking into the Aadhaar case.
“Sub-judice an argument which is available when issues of individual culpability are pending in the court, you don’t prejudice a trial or hearing in a court by discussing it in a parliamentary forum,” he said, adding that if the government waited for matters in court, petitions would be filed on other legislations as well.
“Because an unlegislated executive action of a government has been challenged in the court, parliament does not lose its right to legislate,” he added.
The Aadhaar bill intends to provide for targeted delivery of subsidies and services to individuals residing in India by assigning them unique identity numbers.