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Aadhaar Bill Passed in the Parliament – Even as the Opposition aired its concerns over the possibility of mass surveillance, Parliament passed the controversial Aadhaar Bill, 2016.
Even as the Opposition aired its concerns over the possibility of mass surveillance, Parliament passed the controversial Aadhaar Bill, 2016, after acrimonious debates in both Houses. In a day marked by high drama, hours after the Opposition succeeded in pushing through five amendments to the Bill in the Rajya Sabha, they were rejected in the Lok Sabha.
The amendments were moved by Congress leader Jairam Ramesh, and were passed with a majority vote in favour.
What does this Bill mean and what does it entail are two fundamental questions that loom over the minds of many as of now. Let’s understand the politics and controversy behind the Bill.
Arguing that privacy was not a fundamental right, Union Finance Minister Arun Jaitley told the Lok Sabha that the legislation’s primary objective was delivery of benefits, subsidies and services to the people. He sought to reassure the House that any gaps in the law could be improved with the passage of time, but the Opposition remained unconvinced. It argued that the privacy of a billion people could be compromised. The Opposition also objected to the presentation of the legislation as a Money Bill as this ensured that it was passed without the approval of the Rajya Sabha. “We reserve the right to take recourse to all available alternatives, including a court challenge… By no stretch of imagination, is the Aadhaar Bill a Money Bill,” Congress spokesperson Abhishek Singhvi later told reporters.
Many countries across the globe have adopted the concept of a national security number, wherein that number helps the government track its citizens’ permanent address, contact number, date of birth etc. This number becomes an important part of other official documents as well. The recently introduced Aadhaar bill in the country claims to be a ‘game-changer’ in the Indian administration.
The Opposition maintains a stance on privacy, that is, the biometric data collected under Aadhaar include the scan of fingerprints, face, and the iris of both eyes. Other information include DOB, permanent address and contact number. A database storing such an information has chances of getting hacked, transferred or stolen by a third party. The misuse of the personal data is yet another plausibility. Moreover, the ambiguity of the Aadhaar Bill clauses such as the simultaneous non-disclosure of biometric information and disclosure of it under issues of “national security”, make it apprehensive for the citizens of the country or to say the Opposition to give it a thumps-up.
The amendments to the controversial Aadhaar Bill pushed through by the Opposition in the Rajya Sabha and later rejected in the Lok Sabha included one that sought to prevent disclosure of “biometric or demographic information” in the interests of “national security” which was seen as too sweeping. It was suggested that “national security” be replaced with “public emergency or in the interests of “public safety.”
Another amendment related to permitting individuals with Aadhaar numbers to opt out of the system, with the Central Identities Data Repository deleting all information and authentication records, and giving a certificate to that effect within 15 days.
A third amendment provided for alternative identification for delivery of services, subsidies and benefits to those choosing not to enrol for an Aadhaar number.
A fourth amendment mandated the inclusion of the Central Vigilance Commissioner or the Comptroller and Auditor-General in the Oversight Committee. The fifth amendment sought the deletion of a clause that allows the Aadhaar number to be used for purposes other than those provided in the Bill.
Furthermore, if the Aadhaar Bill is enacted, it would become necessary for every citizen residing in the country for more than 182 days to enroll for an Aadhaar card. Whereas the Supreme Court has ruled that Aadhar cannot be made mandatory.
Another reason that makes this Bill controversial is the way in which it was introduced. FM Arun Jailtey presented the Aadhaar Bill as a Money Bill in the Lok Sabha on March 3, 2016. Money Bill is for appropriation of money in reference to the Consolidated Fund and it can be introduced in Lok Sabha only. Rajya Sabha can make no amendments to a Money Bill once it is passed in the Lok Sabha.
The fact that the Aadhaar Bill was spearheaded by the UPA government under the name of National ID Bill in 2010 and remains pending in Rajya Sabha till date, is another reason for clash between the government and opposition.
“I am questioning the competence of this House to legislate the Bill,” Sitaram Yechury of the CPI(M) said, arguing that the Bill was also being considered by the Supreme Court and was beyond “the legislative authority” of the House. To this accusation, Mr. Jaitley responded: “This is an unprecedented argument in a democracy which has the separation of powers. The court only has power of judicial review.”
“If the principal purpose is money spent out of the Consolidated Fund of India in a particular manner and a machinery is created for spending that money, it is a Money Bill,” Mr. Jaitley said in reply to the Opposition’s objections to the legislation being framed as a Money Bill.
The effort to channelize subsidies, benefits and services to through a 12-digit number or to say its biometric alternative can help plug the leakages in the subsidy framework and give a boost to the Jan Dhan Yojna, which remains closely aligned to this scheme. Allocation and administration of such a system in our country can benefit thousands of people, but living on the edge regarding the foundation of this scheme can pop this ‘game-changer’ into thin air.
Source: Financial Express