A bill to give statutory backing to the unique identity number scheme for better targetting of subsidies was on Wednesday returned by Rajya Sabha to the Lok Sabha with several amendments, with Opposition parties also objecting strongly to treating it as a money bill. The Lok Sabha on Wednesday evening passed the Aadhar bill after rejecting five amendments introduced in Rajya Sabha.
The amendments to the Aadhar (Targeted Delivery of Financial and other subsidies, benefits and services) Bill, 2016, moved by Congress leader and former Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh, were passed in Rajya Sabha with a majority voting in favour. The ruling BJP-led NDA does not have majority in the House. Members of BSP, TMC and BJD also walked out of the House raising objections on several issues concerning the measure.
‘ Why Aadhar brought as money bill’
The process of return of the bill saw an animated debate over why it was brought as a money bill, with a number of opposition members also raising concern over privacy and national security on the biometric data of Indians so collected through the scheme. Brushing aside the objections by the Opposition, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley said the Aadhar Bill was a money bill as it dealt with the way public money or subsidy will be distributed among the needy under various government schemes.
Moving the Bill in Rajya Sabha, Jaitley said Parliament cannot abdicate its right to legislate just because the issue is pending in the Supreme Court. The Minister also emphasised that the present bill was different from the one brought by the UPA government as it had further tightened the privacy provisions with regard to sharing of information of individuals collected by the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI).
Several Opposition members including Sitaram Yechury (CPI-M), Jairam Ramesh (Cong), Naresh Agrawal (SP) and K C Tyagi (JD-U) among others, opposed the government’s decision to label the Aadhar bill as a money bill. Refuting the objections in a debate marred by acrimony, Jaitley said the Lok Sabha Speaker had the final authority under the Constitution to declare a bill as money bill and nobody can question that. The Lok Sabha has passed the bill on March 11.
“One, the purpose of this bill is distribution of government money by subsidies and the rest is incidental, so it is a money bill. Two, merely because the executive action is challenged and pending in the Supreme Court, the powers of Parliament cannot suspend the right to legislate. Three, learning from UPA’s experience, we have further tightened privacy laws much more than the UPA had in its bill,” he said.
Speaking about the Aadhar bill, Ramesh said it was because of “small mercies” that a debate had taken place over it. The Congress leader said the major use of Aadhar should be that it could be used to improve the way subsidy is distributed to curb leakages, but it should not determine who is eligible for for subsidy.
Ramesh said while much has been made out by the Finance Minister about Rs 14,000 crore savings in the distribution of LPG subsidies because of Aadhar based DBT, the findings of a London-based think tank suggest otherwise. He said while the present Bill is better in some respects than the one brought by UPA in 2010, it is silent on other aspects. He said he had overall nine objections to the Bill, a number for which Jaitley had shown much fascination in the budget.