Government embarrassed again as Rajya Sabha returns Aadhaar bill with amendments (Roundup)

New Delhi, March 16 (IANS) In another embarrasment for the Narendra Modi government, the Rajya Sabha on Wednesday returned the Aadhaar bill to the lower house with four amendments, including that it remains voluntary, even as Finance Minister Arun Jaitley clarified it has strict provisions to safeguard citizens’ privacy.

The debate on the Aadhaar (Targeted Delivery of Financial and Other Subsidies, Benefits and Services) Bill, 2016 saw a heated debate between government and opposition, as opposition members questioned the decision to convert it into a money bill.

The government saw an embarrassing defeat in its efforts to stop the amendments – the second time in this session. Earlier, the opposition forced an amendment in the motion of thanks to the president’s speech, even after Prime Minister Modi urged them to pass it unanimously.

The amendments passed on Wednesday included one on enrolment under Aadhaar (clause 3), mandatory use of Aadhaar for government services and subsidies (clause 7), disclosing information in the interest of national security (clause 33) and allowing private persons to use Aadhaar (clause 57).

The opposition had recommended that Aadhaar be made voluntary, disclosure of information should be permitted in the interest of public safety or public emergency, instead of national security, and the clause allowing private persons to use Aadhaar be deleted.

“I don’t have an Aadhaar number and I don’t need one, because I am not a beneficiary of subsidy, but tomorrow if I want a mobile connection, the guys say ‘Where is your Aadhaar number! You made it mandatory no!” said Congress member Jairam Ramesh, who had moved all the four amendments that were passed.

Jaitley, however, held that Aadhaar was not mandatory.

“..where people don’t have it, alternative documents will be prescribed…. and the user would be predominantly through the state government,” he said in his response.

“Tomorrow if Tamil Nadu government decides that people below a certain income would get some benefits then it is mandatory if you want benefits,” he said, giving an example.

He earlier assured the the house that there are provisions for ensuring privacy.

He also emphasised that under the bill, personal information of a person would be shared only on the basis of his consent, and the “core biometric data” will not be shared even if there is consent.

“The only ground on which data can be shared is national security. One authority will be created in Delhi,” he said, adding that the decision of that authority will be reviewed by an authority headed by the cabinet secretary.

On it being made a money bill, he said: “Article 110 decides what a money bill is. If money flows into consolidated fund of India and money flows out of consolidated fund of India, and a law yields with that matter it becomes a money bill.”

“Article 110(3) says clearly it is satisfaction of speaker of Lok Sabha that is final… Once the speaker satisfies herself and says I certify it is a money bill, it will be a money bill and no authority in the country can question that provision,” he said.

He also rejected Communist Party of India-Marxist leader Sitaram Yechury’s argument that government was being haste in bringing the law as a five-member bench of Supreme Court is looking into the Aadhaar case.

“Sub-judice an argument which is available when issues of individual culpability are pending in the court, you don’t prejudice a trial or hearing in a court by discussing it in a parliamentary forum,” he said, adding that if the government waited for matters in court, petitions would be filed on other legislations as well.

“Because an unlegislated executive action of a government has been challenged in the court, parliament does not lose its right to legislate,” he added.

The Aadhaar bill intends to provide for targeted delivery of subsidies and services to individuals residing in India by assigning them unique identity numbers.

The bill was brought in the Lok Sabha as a money bill, which restricts the upper house’s role as its members cannot amend the bill, but only recommend amendments, which will go back to the Lok Sabha and the lower house can choose to pass or reject them.

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