New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Monday sought assistance of Attorney General on a plea of senior Congress leader Jairam Ramesh challenging the decision to treat Aadhaar bill as a money bill, which was passed during Budget session last month, overruling amendments moved in Rajya Sabha.
"We will like to have the views of Attorney General (Mukul Rohtagi)," a bench headed by Chief Justice TS Thakur said when senior advocate and former Union Finance Minister P Chidambaram sought issuance of notice on the plea of the Congress leader. Chidambaram said that treating the Aadhaar bill as a money bill was "unconstitutional".
The bench, also comprising Justices R Banumathi and U U Lalit, fixed the matter for further hearing on 10 May. It, however, did not issue notice on the plea of Ramesh. Lok Sabha had on March 16 passed the Aadhaar bill that aims at better targeting of subsidies through the Aadhaar unique identity.
The House had earlier adopted the Aadhaar (Targeted Delivery of Financial and Other Subsidies, Benefits and Services) Bill, 2016, by a voice vote after rejecting recommendations for five amendments made by the Upper House. Armed with the Speaker's decision that it was a money bill, the government pushed it in Rajya Sabha, which cannot amend it but only make recommendations for amendment to Lok Sabha.
Once Lok Sabha passes a money bill with or without amendments recommended by Rajya Sabha, it is deemed to have been passed by both the Houses. Showing urgency in getting the law through, the Centre, which enjoys a comfortable majority in Lok Sabha, had brought the measure to the Lower House within an hour of being returned by Rajya Sabha.
Finance Minister Arun Jaitley, who had moved the bill and piloted them in both the Houses, had also turned down the opposition argument that Parliament cannot legislate since the matter is before the Supreme Court.
Congress leader Jairam Ramesh while proposing amendments in the bill in Rajya Sabha, had expressed "anguish" that the bill was brought as a money bill, an act he likened to "knocking a nail in the coffin of the Upper House". Calling the passage of the bill in this manner "a very dangerous trend", Ramesh had said that the government tried to "bypass" Rajya Sabha by doing this.
Insisting that a series of conditions are specified in Article 110 and that Article 110 uses the word "only" if those conditions are prevalent can a bill be declared a money bill, he had said that the Aadhaar bill, which was passed as a money bill "ignored five recommendations made by the Rajya Sabha. "It had many other provisions and most constitutional experts have given the view that the Aadhaar bill is not a money bill. While the prerogative of declaring a bill as a money bill or not is that of the Speaker and the Speaker's decision is final but the recommendation to the Speaker to consider making it a money bill is that of the government.
"It is the government that decides whether it is a money bill or not and the Speaker only certifies it as money bill," Ramesh had said. Moving amendments in the Upper House during consideration of the bill, the former Union Minister had argued that every individual should have the freedom to opt out of Aadhaar and said the present bill does not give that space. Stating that he himself does not have an Aadhaar card, Ramesh had said a situation may arise when it may be needed even to book a flight or get a phone number.
He had also opposed another provision in the bill which he termed as "broad" and "amorphous" and could become the ground for misuse of the law as it gives "sweeping powers" on the grounds of national security. He had suggested that rather than national security, the terms "public emergency" or "public safety" could be used. He had said that an independent member like the CVC should be included in the panel that decides which information regarding a person can be shared.
Ramesh had said any suo motu powers, "even to collect information" should not be given to the Aadhaar authority, for instance it could even direct collection of DNA. He had said there were concerns of privacy and the amendments moved by him were in line with the recommendation suggested by a commission headed by Justice (retd) A P Shah, which had been set by the Planning Commission to examine the matter.