New Delhi: The Lok Sabha on Friday passed the Aadhaar Bill, providing statutory backing to the unique identification number for transferring government subsidies and benefits, as a money bill after government overruled Opposition objections.
Finance Minister Arun Jaitley said thousands of crores of rupees would be saved by plugging leakages and diversions as he rejected Opposition's demand for referring the Bill to a standing committee and their concerns of privacy as well as Aadhaar potentially being used for "mass surveillance" and "ethnic cleansing".
Overruling Congress' objections that the legislation has been turned into a money bill to avoid voting in the Rajya Sabha where the government does not have a majority, he said Aadhaar was a money bill in true definition.
The Bill "will empower the states to distribute resources of the State to deserving people and save the resources that undeserving people get," the minister said while replying to short debate on the Aadhaar (Target Delivery of Financial and Other Subsidies, Benefits and Services) Bill, 2016'.
"The effect is going to be on the Centre and state governments which will save thousands of crore," Jaitley said just before the measure was adopted by a voice vote.
Justifying bringing Aadhaar as a money bill, he said any measure which leads to money going into the Consolidated Fund of India and coming out of it, qualifies as money bill.
There are certain procedures which are followed for a money Bill, he said.
Earlier participating in the debate, BJD's Tathagat Satpathy said there are fears that a government of the day may use the provisions of the bill for "mass surveillance" and "ethnic cleansing".
When a BJP member countered him saying there are no different races in the country, Satpathy said there are at least four groups in the country and Indians can be divided on these lines.
He claimed that the United Nations had recently "misutilised" biometric data of refugees coming from Iraq and Syria to help certain countries keep tabs on them.
"More dangerous is collection of biological data," he said opposing the Bill.
Members expressed concern over possible "invasion of privacy" if it in its current form becomes a law and sought that it be referred to a standing committee, a demand that found support in Congress leader Mallikarjun Kharge and AIADMK leader P Venugopal, with the former saying that they were not against it but there are "flaws".
Rejecting Kharge's criticism for making it a money bill, Jaitley said the legislation was "distinctly different" from the one tabled by the UPA and "the earlier we implement it, it will be better."
Allaying fears that privacy would be breached, he said core bio-metric data cannot be shared with anyone. However, some data can be shared with the consent of the individual.
With regard to opposition suggestion regarding definition of national security, he said, it is for the courts to define what falls under national security.
Moving the bill for consideration and passage earlier, Jaitley said targeted subsidy through Aadhaar cards of LPG consumers had resulted in savings of over Rs 15,000 crore at the Centre. Four states which had started PDS delivery by a similar exercise on a pilot basis, had saved more than Rs 2,300 crore.
Last week, Parliamentary Affairs Minister M Venkaiah Naidu had said the passage of the Bill would save Rs 20,000 crore by avoiding subsidies taken by the undeserving.
The Bill provides for statutory backing to Aadhaar scheme for transferring government subsidies and benefits.
It provides 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 summary of the bill said.
Giving statutory backing to Aadhaar will enable the use of the identification number for better targeting of subsidies.
Jaitley said discussion on the institution of Aadhaar has been going on for over seven years after the then UPA government approved a bill in September, 2010 and introduced in Parliament that December.
"Entire discussion in seven years has now culminated," he said, noting that it was discussed in standing committee and extensive public suggestions were also received, as he stressed that the government had taken note of all this.
Citing differences between the earlier Bill tabled by UPA and the latest one, the Finance Minister said the earlier measure provided for establishment of an Authority and gave idea of unique identity but failed to define its purpose.
"Learning from that experience, we have improved upon the idea and the focus of the Bill is shifted," he said.
The National Identification Authority of India (NIDAI) Bill, 2010 was introduced by the previous UPA government to provide statutory backing to the UIDAI.
The Finance Minister further said that till a few months ago, he himself was a beneficiary of LPG subsidy which he should not be entitled to.
So the Bill will help weed out undeserving beneficiary from government subsidy scheme.
"The purpose of the Bill is not for collateral purpose but to ensure that benefit of public revenue reach the targeted beneficiary," he added.
He said 97 percent of adults have Aadhaar cards while 67 percent of minors have it as well. Five to seven lakh people are being added every day, he said.