By Rakesh Bhatnagar
The prime concern for finance minister Arun Jaitley after delivering the Budget on Monday is to move a Bill that gives statutory status to Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) which enrolls people for Aadhaar card.
Since the government will now link all subsidies and monetary benefits to a large section of beneficiaries with Aadhaar card, it becomes incumbent that the UIDAI is accorded legal status, which its creator Congress-led UPA couldn’t during its tenure, and take guard against the Supreme Court’s intervention on the issue whether this unique identity card violates right to privacy of citizens.
The UPA government had moved the National Identification Authority of India (NIDAI) Bill 2010 in the Rajya Sabha to provide statutory backing to its Aadhaar scheme, but it could not get the approval of Parliament because of little support from its key opponent BJP.
It was on the argument made by Attorney General Mukul Rohatgi that right to privacy could be voluntarily surrendered by people in order to avail the monetary subsidies provided by the government, the top court had slammed the government saying no scheme could violate the fundamental right of privacy.
Serious doubts were, however, raised on the Aadhaar card scheme as the government hadn’t been able to set up its statutory authority.
In October 2015, Supreme Court had issued an interim order rejecting mandatory requirement of Aadhaar for availing benefits or subsidies or services of government and said that the Aadhaar card scheme is purely voluntary and it cannot be made mandatory till the matter is finally decided by it.
Can an individual voluntarily waive his right to privacy by enrolling for Aadhaar? The Supreme Court had its reservation, thus referred this question for consideration by a Constitution Bench of at least five judges while refusing to modify its August 11, 2015 interim order restricting the use of Aadhaar to identify beneficiaries for the subsidies.
In a talk on national TV channel, Jaitley on Monday said the government will soon pilot a Bill to effectuate statutory status to UIDAI so that Aadhaar card is mandatory.
It is learnt that the Aadhaar (Delivery of Benefits, Subsidies and Services) Bill 2016 is ready and may be piloted in this current session in Lok Sabha.
This proposed legislation would grant statutory footing to Aadhaar card.
Attorney General Rohatgi has opined that the government could move the Bill as Money Bill under Articles 109 and 110 of the Constitution.
The Modi government also has plans to withdraw National Identification Authority of India Bill, 2010, from Rajya Sabha.
Jaitley says the proposed Bill wouldn’t interfere with the issue of privacy which is awaiting hearing by the Supreme Court. He doesn’t elaborate.
It is learnt that the Bill could help the government counter concerns raised over privacy and data security. It provides for proof of Aadhaar number as a condition for receipt of benefit and subsidy funded by the Consolidated Fund of India.
It is learnt that a framework is needed for effective implementation of Direct Benefit Transfer (DBT) schemes. Thus, all benefits, subsidies or services funded from the consolidated fund of India, should be through Aadhaar platform.
Though details of the Bill are awaited, it takes care of legislation, privacy and data security.
A retired judge, Justice K.S. Puttaswamy, who challenged the legality of Aadhaar had raised primary concern that whether the collection and storing of biometric and other information would compromise a citizen’s right to privacy.
Until date over 98 crore Aadhaar numbers have been generated. On an average 26 lakh biometric and over 1.5 lakh e-KYC transactions are prepared every day.
Aadhaar numbers have been fed in 11.19 crore Direct Benefit Transfer of LPG (DBTL) accounts out of total 16.5 crore DBTL beneficiaries.
Why statutory status to Aadhaar card is imperative? Jaitley says at a time when the government is determined to wipe out pilferage in distribution of subsidy meant for the rightful claimants, a unique number linked to bank account of the claimant is necessary.
The proposed food subsidy bill is of Rs 1.35 lakh crore, Fertiliser subsidies total to Rs 70,000 crore, petroleum bill at Rs 26,947 crore and another Rs 38,500 crore to the BPL farm labourers engaged in minor construction works 150 days in a year under MNREGA.
The Union Cabinet approved direct benefit transfer to beneficiaries of the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MGNREGS) as it noted that delayed payments had been one of the biggest drawbacks of the affirmative scheme under which Rs 34,000 crore had been allocated this fiscal.
Direct benefit transfer ensures that scheme funds do not get indefinitely parked with the state finance departments or diverted to the vested interests in the government.