President gives assent to Aadhaar bill
President Pranab Mukherjee has given his assent to the Aadhaar bill, mandating procurement of the 12-digit unique identity number for accessing government services and benefits. An official with UIDAI said that the law would be implemented only after rules listing out the details of the enrollment process were issued. He added that key functionaries for the Aadhaar scheme also needed to be appointed.
Aadhaar is a 12 digit identification number that serves as a universal identity proof, valid all over India. Citizens are under no compulsion to sign up for the initiative as it is free of cost and voluntary in nature. It is a random number not based on race, gender, caste, religion, region, etc. Aadhaar is issued by UIDAI on behalf of Government of India.
Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) is the nodal government agency responsible for issuing Aadhaar numbers. Established in 2009, it is mandated to develop necessary infrastructure for issuing Aadhaars. However, UIDAI is not a statutory body established by law but by an executive action. This is one of the major criticisms of Aadhaar as it collects sensitive biometric data without any legislation.
The Supreme Court allowed the use of Aadhaar for 4 schemes, apart from the existing LPG subsidy and ration under Public Distribution System. The 4 new schemes include Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme, Pradhan Mantri Jan Dhan Yojana, and schemes related to provident fund and pension. The SC stressed that the use of Aadhaar would be voluntary and cannot be made mandatory.
According to a World Bank (WB) report, India is saving $1 billion annually by using Aadhaar, due to the reduced scope for corruption in public services. Aadhaar has also helped in inclusion of disadvantaged groups, as the poorest of poor get access to government welfare programs. The report added that India is on track to enroll the entire 1.25 billion population under Aadhaar.
The government is planning to issue Aadhaar numbers to NRIs and even Overseas Citizens of India (OCI). This was announced by the External Affairs Minister, Sushma Swaraj, during the Pravasi Bhartiya Divas(PBD) which is celebrated on 9th of January every year to mark the return of Mahatma Gandhi to India. Presently, Aadhaar-numbers are given only to Indians living in India and not to NRIs.
92% of Indians above 18 years of age have been issued Aadhaar numbers as of 20 Jan'16. In all the age groups, more than 96 crore Aadhaar numbers have been issued as per the UIDAI (Unique Identification Authority of India) portal. It is already the largest biometric id program anywhere in the world. Uttar Pradesh has issued the maximum Aadhaar numbers, followed by Maharashtra.
Official sources stated that the Cabinet cleared the new Aadhaar Bill and that it would be introduced in Parliament soon. During his budget speech Finance Minister Arun Jaitley said that the government sought statutory backing for the Aadhaar scheme. The statutory status will provide a legal foundation to Aadhaar for expanding its use for a range of developmental purposes.
Finance Minister Arun Jaitley introduced the Aadhaar Bill as a money bill in the Lok Sabha which seeks to link Aadhaar cards to government subsidies. The opposition opposed the move claiming that the NDA wanted to "bypass" the Upper House as a similar bill was pending there. Jaitley said it was up to the speaker to decide the constitutionality of passing such a bill.
The Lok Sabha passed the Aadhaar bill, aimed to ensure that government subsidies and services directly reach the intended beneficiaries. The Aadhaar (Targeted Delivery of Financial and Other Subsidies, Benefits and Services) Bill, 2016, was passed by a voice vote after a brief debate Finance Minister Arun Jaitley assured the house that the information provided for Aadhaar cards would not be misused by anyone.
Opposition parties questioned the validity of introducing the Aadhaar bill as a money bill in the Rajya Sabha. Samajwadi Party leader Naresh Agrawal and CPI-Marxist general secretary Sitaram Yechury stated that bill did not fulfill the conditions of a money bill. However, Deputy Chairman P.J. Kurien stated that Lok Sabha Speaker Sumitra Mahajan's decision on the matter could not be questioned under the constitution.
The Congress amended the Aadhaar bill in the Rajya Sabha, forcing the government to turn to the Lok Sabha, to overturn the amendments and ensure its passage. The government used provisions of a 'money bill' to override the five Congress sponsored amendments to the Aadhaar bill. Most of the proposed amendments dealt with provisions regarding data privacy and making the scheme voluntary.