New Delhi: Rejecting Rajya Sabha's five amendments and opposition's appeal not to make "haste", the Lok Sabha Wednesday passed the legislation that aims at better targeting of subsidies through the Aadhar 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 Aadhar (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 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 Aadhar 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 Aadhar 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.
Referring to the other amendment with regard to engaging Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) and Central Vigilance Commission (CVC) for the purpose of disclosing bio-metric details, Jaitley said, the issues concerning "national security cannot be handled by public auditors or anti-corruption authority."
It has to be handled by Home Secretary, Defence Secretary or Cabinet Secretary, he said.
Under the Bill one authority is created in Delhi will decide on sharing of information and the decision of the authority can be reviewed by a committee headed by Cabinet Secretary in three months.
Jaitley further said that the some personal information can be shared with the consent of individual but core bio-metric details cannot be shared even with the consent of individual.
Taking a dig at the CPM which walked out of the House, he said, the left party has entered into relationship in West Bengal "but don't kill youth Congress leader in Kerala...You are romancing in West Bengal and murdering each other in Kerala."
The process of return of the bill by the Rajya Sabha saw
an animated debate over why it was brought as a money bill. A number of opposition members also raised concern over privacy and national security on the biometric data of Indians so collected through the scheme.
Brushing aside the objections by the Opposition, Jaitley said the Aadhaar 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.
Jaitley said he cannot delete Section 57 of Aadhaar law restricting the use of the data for purposes of granting benefit by state governments. This was one of the five amendments passed by Rajya Sabha, but rejected by Lok Sabha.
The Rajya Sabha had returned the bill to Lok Sabha after approving five amendments moved by Congress leader Jairam Ramesh.
In the Upper House, the Finance Minister said security of state over the years have come to be defined as a well defined concept.
Observing that the phrase national security has been borrowed from the 2010 law, Jaitley said: "(it) has evolved and is defined. It is something to do with integrity of the India, sovereignty of India. (But) there is no concept of public emergency. You are permitting by your amendment, a much larger encroachment of privacy that the law permits.
He said while national security is limited, public safety and public emergency are not constitutional phrase.
"They are undefined and unustified...Public safety is a vaguer phrase," he said, adding, "national security over the years is a narrower phrase. It interest involves interest of the security of the state, integrity of India".
The Finance Minister said that the "encroachment" of personal liberty or privacy has been narrowed down and "we have taken care of larger no of privacy concern...".
Members of BSP, TMC and BJD in Rajya Sabha also walked out of the House raising objections on several issues concerning the measure.