Only 73 of the Lok Sabha's 545 members were present as the lower house passed the controversial Aadhaar (Target Delivery of Financial and Other Subsidies, Benefits and Services) Bill on Friday.
With the passage of the bill, the government or any "requesting entity", including a private company, could ask an individual to produce the biometrics-ID Aadhaar card to avail any subsidy, benefit, or service. Critics have expressed concerns over citizens' biometric data ‒ such as fingerprints and iris scans ‒ being collected on a mass scale in the absence of a privacy law.
The listing of the Bill on Friday was unusual because, ordinarily, private members' business (bills and resolutions) are taken up before the weekend. The House was relatively empty because several members had already left for their constituencies.
The process was also noteworthy because this was moved as a money Bill, which does not have to be approved by the Rajya Sabha. The ruling Bharatiya Janata Party-led National Democratic Alliance lacks a majority in the upper house.
As critics pointed out, money Bills relate broadly to taxes or spending from the Treasury. But the government argued that the Aadhaar Bill qualified as one because it deals with expenditure incurred from the government Treasury. Legal experts pointed out that by this token, most Bills on health, education, railways, transport, agriculture could qualify as money Bills. This strategy, they said, would reduce the Rajya Sabha simply to a rubber stamp on any legislation.
On Friday, the Bill was discussed only three hours.
As the BJP moved the legislation, several members, including those from the Congress, the Biju Janata Dal, the Communist Party of India (Marxist) and the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, objected to the decision to classify this as a money Bill and suggested that it be sent to a standing committee.
Finance Minister Arun Jaitley clarified some clauses of the Bill. He claimed that biometric data would not be shared under any circumstances. But the Bill actually allows for this data to shared with a joint secretary of the government in the interests of "national security".
BJD MP Tathagath Satpathy had moved several amendments, including on clause 33(1) which permits disclosure of an individual's data on an order by a district judge. Trinamool Congress MP Saugata Roy had also moved amendments but was not present in the parliament. However, ruling party MPs opposed all amendments by voice vote.
Leader of the Congress in the Lok Sabha Mallikarjun Kharge had earlier stated that the Congress would cooperate with the government on Aadhaar, but objected to the Bill being introduced as a money Bill.