The Lok Sabha on Wednesday passed the Aadhaar (Targeted Delivery of Financial and Other Subsidies, Benefits and Services) Bill, 2016, aimed at at better targeting of subsidies through the Aadhar unique identity number. The passage of the Bill was preceded by heated debate in the Rajya Sabha involving Opposition members, especially Congress member Jairam Ramesh.
Here are the salient features of the bill (as explained by PRS Legislative) and the concerns regarding its implementation:
What is the bill all about?
The Bill intends to provide for targeted delivery of subsidies and services to individuals residing in India by assigning them unique identity numbers, called Aadhaar numbers. Every resident shall be entitled to obtain an Aadhaar number. A resident is a person who has resided in India for 182 days, in the one year preceding the date of application for enrolment for Aadhaar.
What are the salient features of the Bill?
For anyone to get an Aadhaar number the details that needs to be submitted include (i) biometric (photograph, finger print, iris scan) and (ii) demographic (name, date of birth, address) information.
The Aadhaar number will be used to verify the identity of a person receiving a subsidy or a service. If a person does not have an Aadhaar number, the government will ask them to apply for it. Otherwise, the person will be given an alternative means of identification. Any public or private entity can accept the Aadhaar number as a proof of identity of the Aadhaar number holder, for any purpose. However, the number is not a proof of citizenship or domicile.
What are the safeguards in place?
It is the UID authority that will authenticate the Aadhaar number of an individual, if an entity makes such a request. A requesting entity (an agency or person that wants to authenticate information of a person) has to obtain the consent of an individual before collecting his information. The agency can use the disclosed information only for purposes for which the individual has given consent.
The UID authority is not permitted to share an individual’s biometric information such as finger print, iris scan and other biological attributes. Further, these details will be used only for Aadhaar enrolment and authentication, and for no other purpose.
The authority shall record the entity requesting verification of a person’s identity, the time of request and the response received by the entity. The purpose for which an individual's identity needs to be verified will not be maintained.
What are the exceptions for information sharing?
As per Section 33 of the Bill there are two cases when information may be revealed:
a) In the interest of national security, a joint secretary in the central government may issue a direction for revealing, (i) Aadhaar number, (ii) biometric information (iris scan, finger print and other biological attributes specified by regulations), (iii) demographic information, and (iv) photograph. Such a decision will be reviewed by an oversight committee (comprising Cabinet Secretary, Secretaries of Legal Affairs and Electronics and Information Technology) and will be valid for six months.
b) On the order of a court, (i) an individual’s Aadhaar number, (ii) photograph, and (iii) demographic information, may be revealed.
What are the offences and punishments for violation?
A person may be punished with imprisonment up to three years and minimum fine of Rs 10 lakh for unauthorised access to the centralised data-base, including revealing any information stored in it. If a requesting entity and an enrolling agency fail to comply with rules, they shall be punished with imprisonment up to one year or a fine up to Rs 10,000 or Rs 1 lakh (in case of a company), or with both.
Why did the Opposition object to the Bill?
For one, the Opposition parties raised objections to the Bill being introduced as a money Bill. A money Bill pertains to taxes or spending or borrowing of the government and requires no approval from the Rajya Sabha. The Upper House can only make recommendations, which the Lok Sabha can accept or reject. Once the Lok Sabha passes a money bill with or without amendments recommended by the Rajya Sabha, it is deemed to have been passed by both the Houses.
The Opposition contents that the Aadhaar Bill has been introduced as a money Bill only to circumvent the ruling NDA's minority status in the Rajya Sabha.
Secondly, the case on whether the implementation of the Aadhaar number indeed encroaches the privacy of a person is still pending in the Supreme Court. So the Opposition parties were of the opinion that Parliament cannot legislate since the matter is before Supreme Court.
Thirdly, there are concerns that the term 'national security' as mentioned in Section 33 (that deals with exceptions for not disclosing identity) can be mis-used. The concern is not without basis given the emotions being whipped up around nationalism and patriotism. Ramesh wanted the words 'national security' to be replaced by "public emergency and public safety" for sharing the bio-metric details.
A group of social activists had also raised this concern after the bill was passed in the Lok Sabha earlier. They said the legislation may be misused for "mass surveillance" as it does not address concerns over privacy. "It will used for mass surveillance. The law will be an infringement on the rights of privacy of people," activist Kavita Srivastava was quoted saying in a PTI report.
Fourthly, does the bill make Aadhaar number mandatory for all the citizens. The finance minister clarified that it is not mandatory. If a person does not have Aadhaar number, he or she will be given an alternative identification.
In last-ditch attempts, Opposition members including those from Trinamool, CPI(M) and BJD appealed to the government to respect the "wisdom" of the house of elders and accept their amendments in a democratic spirit and not to reject them on "ego".
What are the government's justifications?
According to finance minister Jaitley, who moved the Bill, it is a money Bill because it deals subsidies and money that is flows out of the Consolidated Fund of India. What also came to the government's rescue is speaker PJ Kurien's contention that that it was a money Bill.
On the Opposition argument that Parliament should not legislate as the case is pending in the Supreme Court, Jaitley said Parliament cannot abdicate its duty under the Constitution which clearly separates powers among various institutions.
On the use of the term 'national security', Jaitley said security of state over the years have come to be defined as a well defined concept. He also said the phrase has been borrowed from the 2010 law, which was brought in by the UPA. "(The term national security) has evolved and is defined. It is something to do with integrity of the India, sovereignty of India. (But) there is no concept of public emergency. You are permitting by your amendment, a much larger encroachment of privacy that the law permits.
He also said while national security is limited, public safety and public emergency are not constitutional phrase. "They are undefined and unustified... Public safety is a vaguer phrase," he said, adding, "national security over the years is a narrower phrase. It interest involves interest of the security of the state, integrity of India".
He also said that the "encroachment" of personal liberty or privacy has been narrowed down and "we have taken care of larger no of privacy concern...".
Why is the Bill important?
As explained earlier, it is central to the ambitious financial inclusion programme of the Modi government. For the government, passing such a law had become important after the Supreme Court issued an interim order in October 2015 saying the Aadhaar number cannot be made mandatory for availing benefits or subsidies or services of the government. The Aadhaar card scheme is purely voluntary and it cannot be made mandatory till the matter is finally decided by it, the court had said.
The Bill will enable the government to set up a statutory authority for the Aadhaar card scheme. This will permit banks to use the Aadhaar number as identification for customers, which will help them weed out fake Jan Dhan accounts.
With inputs from PTI