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Amid din, Lok Sabha passes Aadhaar Bill

Amid din, Lok Sabha passes Aadhaar Bill
Rejecting Rajya Sabha’s five amendments and opposition’s appeal not to make “haste”, the Lok Sabha on Wednesday passed the legislation that aims at better targeting of subsidies through the Aadhaar unique identity number within hours of the Upper Housing returning it.

Just moments before it was adjourned for more than a month-long recess for scrutiny of budget, the Lok Sabha adopted the the Aadhaar (Targeted Delivery of Financial and other subsidies, benefits and services) Bill, 2016, by a voice vote after rejecting the recommendations for five amendments made by the Upper House earlier in the evening.

Armed with the Speaker’s nod that it was a money bill, the government rushed it through the Rajya Sabha, which cannot amend it but only make recommendations for amendment to the Lok Sabha. Once the Lok Sabha passes a money bill with or without amendments recommended by the Rajya Sabha, it is deemed to have been passed by both the Houses.

Showing urgency in getting the law through, the government, which enjoys a comfortable majority in the Lok Sabha, brought the measure to the lower house within an hour of being returned by the Rajya Sabha.

The government considers the Aadhaar bill as a significant instrument for implementing its Direct Benefit Transfer (DBT) schemes by better targeting of beneficiaries but the Opposition attacked the government saying it was violating the Supreme Court direction that Aadhaar card cannot be made mandatory but should only be voluntary.

Finance Minister Arun Jaitley, who moved the bill and piloted them in both the Houses, also turned down opposition argument that Parliament cannot legislate since the matter is before Supreme Court. Parliament cannot abdicate its duty under the Constitutional which clearly separates powers among various institutions, he said.

In last-ditch attempts, Opposition members including those from Trinamool, CPI(M) and BJD appealed to the government to respect the “wisdom” of the house of elders and accept their amendments in a democratic spirit and not to reject them on “ego”. The Lok Sabha rejected the amendments proposed by the Rajya Sabha by a voice vote amid walk out by opposition parties including Trinamool Congress, BJD and CPM. Congress members were conspicuous by their absence. 

Opposition members Saugata Bose (TMC), Mohd Salim (CPI-M) and Tataghat Satpathy (BJD) told the government of the wisdom of the Constitution’s founding fathers in creating a bicameral legislature of which Rajya Sabha forms an important part. They asked the government accept Rajya Sabha’s recommendations on issues provisions relating to description of “national security”, “public safety”, inclusion of CVC and CAG in the oversight committee and penal provisions so that the privacy of individuals is not violated.

Giving reasons for not accepting the amendments, Jaitley said “these amendments have dangerous consequences as they gave wide power to the government to share information.” 

He was responding to the amendments proposed by former Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh and passed by the Upper House in a division pressed by the Congress leader.

Ramesh wanted the words ‘national security’ to be replaced by “public emergency and public safety” for sharing the bio-metric details. Jaitley further said while “national security” is a defined phrase and is mentioned in the Constitution, terms public emergency and public safety can be subject to wide interpretation.

He said he has tightened the provision envisaged in the UPA Bill with regard to protecting the privacy of individuals.

The minister said that opposition to the Aadhaar Bill was with a “political motive” and most of the amendments were not part of the UPA Bill.
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