The bill will also address privacy concerns that have been one of the biggest stumbling blocks to the universal acceptance of Aadhaar
New Delhi: The bill to provide Aadhaar statutory backing and make it the mainstay of the government’s direct benefit transfer (DBT) programme for subsidies will be tabled in Parliament on Thursday as a money bill.
The bill will also adequately address privacy concerns that have been one of the biggest stumbling blocks to the universal acceptance of Aadhaar, said a person familiar with the development who asked not to be identified.
The Aadhaar (Targeted Delivery of Financial and Other Subsidies, Benefits and Services) Bill, 2016 was listed for introduction on Thursday by finance minister Arun Jaitley in the revised list of business available on the Lok Sabha’s website.
The bill will provide for “good governance, efficient, transparent, and targeted delivery of subsidies, benefits and services, the expenditure for which is incurred from the Consolidated Fund of India, to individuals residing in India through assigning of unique identity numbers to such individuals..", a brief summary of the bill said.
When asked if the Aadhaar bill will be tabled as a money bill at the CNBC TV18-Mint Budget Verdict event on Tuesday, Shaktikanta Das, secretary, department of economic affairs, had declined to comment. “Let Parliament have the pleasure of knowing the character of the bill first," he said.
At the same event, Jayant Sinha, minister of state for finance, also declined to comment.
“This is really a question of parliamentary privilege to talk about exactly what shape the bill is going to take. I will have to refrain from commenting on this. You will have to wait for the legislation to be introduced in Parliament," he said.
By introducing the bill as a money bill, the government will not be handicapped by its strength in the Rajya Sabha. This is because money bills can be introduced only in the Lok Sabha. The Rajya Sabha cannot make amendments to a money bill passed by the Lok Sabha and can only make recommendations. It also has to return money bills to the Lok Sabha within 14 days from the date of their receipt, thus ensuring a time-bound process. Such bills also cannot be referred to a joint committee of Parliament, as per details available on the Parliament’s website.
Later in the day, the Lok Sabha’s website showed that the Aadhaar (Targeted Delivery of Financial and Other Subsidies, Benefits and Services) Bill, 2016 had been listed for introduction on Thursday by finance minister Arun Jaitley in the revised list of business. The bill will provide for “good governance, efficient, transparent, and targeted delivery of subsidies, benefits and services, the expenditure for which is incurred from the Consolidated Fund of India, to individuals residing in India through assigning of unique identity numbers to such individuals", said the brief summary of the bill.
Most of the government’s social security schemes and digital initiatives are critically dependent on use of the Aadhaar unique identity number. The number will also form the cornerstone of India’s move towards a cashless economy.
Uncertainty surrounded the project after the Supreme Court restricted the use of the unique identification number until a constitution bench delivers its verdict on a bunch of cases challenging the mandatory use of Aadhaar in government schemes and rules on the issue of privacy violation.
Giving statutory backing to Aadhaar will enable the use of this identification number for better targeting of subsidies.
To be sure, legal experts are of the view that a law backing Aadhaar may not put an end to the case pending before a constitution bench of the Supreme Court.
Jaitley had, in his budget speech, announced the government’s intention to give statutory backing to Aadhaar.
As per the provisions of the bill, Aadhaar will be made mandatory for anyone who wants to receive government benefits and subsidies.
“Giving statutory backing to Aadhaar and making it mandatory for those who want the benefit of any form of government subsidy or advantage is important. And, therefore, wherever the funds of the government or state governments come in, they can make it compulsory for you to have this identification so that the most deserving man and family gets the benefit. This is a very serious reform," Jaitley said on Wednesday while addressing a post-budget interactive session with industry associations.
Former civil servant and member of the erstwhile Planning Commission N.C. Saxena welcomed the move to provide legislative backing to Aadhaar.
“Aadhaar will help those who are excluded from the government’s social security schemes like street dwellers because of lack of a valid identity. Its universal usage in DBT will help cut costs and reduce leakages," he said.
“The government must ensure that Aadhaar’s coverage extends to the poorest sections of the society so that they are not excluded from the subsidies. There are still poor people in the rural and urban areas who have not managed to get a Aadhaar number."
Saxena downplayed concerns that the collection of data on citizens has the potential to violate the privacy of citizens.
“We are talking about a country where still a significant part of our population defecates in the open. And in the end, it is their choice if they want to enrol into Aadhaar and get subsidies from the government," he said.
Privacy concerns around the Aadhaar project have been numerous, given that it requires the use of biometric information such as fingerprints and iris scans of citizens. Critics claim that without appropriate checks and balances, this information isn’t secure, and that it can be misused by the state itself—to profile people, for instance.
Chinmayi Arun, executive director at the Centre for Communication Governance, National Law University, Delhi, criticized the government’s move to pass the bill to legalize Aadhaar without any discussion of the privacy issue.
“The Supreme Court has made its concern about privacy clear in the context of Aadhaar, and lip-service commitment to privacy from the government will not be enough. It is unconscionable to pass such a legislation without several thorough public consultations on what a water-tight privacy framework for it would look like," she said.
Still, the government’s intent seems positive, said Rahul Singh, a research scholar at Balliol College, University of Oxford.
“All this generally sounds good to me. But, in terms of the hierarchy of norms that Indian legal system mandates, a constitutional question can’t be answered through a statute. If someone asks ‘Do I have a constitutional right to privacy’, you can’t solve it by bringing a mere statute. How can a statute create a constitutional right? It can’t," he said.