Despite loud objections from the Upper House over privacy concerns and questionable Parliamentary tactics, the Lok Sabha on Wednesday passed the Aadhaar Bill and sent it on to the President to be signed into law. It did not end up making much of a difference, but members of the Rajya Sabha on Wednesday still used the opportunity to slam the government for passing the Aadhaar legislation as a Money Bill, which allows it to bypass the upper house.
The Aadhaar Bill was introduced by the government as legislation that would give statutory backing to the United Progressive Alliance's project to proved a unique identification number to all Indians. The government controversially introduced the legislation as a Money Bill, which can be passed without approval from the Rajya Sabha, a strategy that was essential because the Bharatiya Janata Party is in the minority in the upper house. Though the Rajya Sabha may make recommendations on such Bills, these are not binding on the lower house. Last week, the Bill was passed by the Lok Sabha with only 73 of the 545 members present.
On Wednesday, Finance Minister and Leader of the House in the Rajya Sabha Arun Jaitley took the floor to defend the government's use of the Money Bill maneuver.
"The purpose of this bill is distribution of government money by subsidies and the rest is incidental, so it is a money bill," Jaitley said.
Money Bills are meant to be specific pieces of legislation that only pertain to the way the government taxes and uses funds. Jaitley argued that his government's version of the Aadhaar Bill had been moved as a Money Bill because it deals with expenditure incurred from the government treasury.
The Opposition, however, pointed out that this was sleight of hand. "This bill is not fulfilling even a single condition of being a money bill," said Naresh Agarwal, of the Samajwadi Party. "The Rajya Sabha is an independent house. We have the right to turn it down."
In addition to a number of questions over the way the Bill was introduced, members also questioned the specific provisions of the legislation. In particular, the Opposition questioned the Bill's approach to privacy, since Aadhaar cards come with biometric data.
Jaitley made a clear statement that the government presupposes privacy as a fundamental right, even though no such right exists in law. That said, the finance minister said that it came with riders. "Privacy is not an absolute right. Supreme Court is considering the privacy issue. It is subject to a restriction; it can be restricted by a procedure established by law."
The Finance Minister nevertheless claimed that his Bill had tightened privacy provisions when compared to the legislation introduced by the previous government.
Opposition walk out
Members of some Opposition parties also walked out of the House raising objections on several issues concerning the Bill. Congress leader Jairam Ramesh managed to force the house into recommending a number of amendments, asking the government to better define what situations of national security would allow biometric data to be accessed by authorities.
Another amendment also attempts to make it evident that Aadhaar doesn't become mandatory. Finally, questions about the use of Aadhaar data by private citizens – as demonstrated by a questionable private company that promises to use Aadhaar to profile people – were also raised.
Despite these recommendations, the Rajya Sabha nevertheless had to return the Aadhaar Bill to the Lok Sabha, where the lower house took it up and passed it later in the evening.