Govt introduces Aadhaar Amendment Bill in Lok Sabha

lok-sabha-Jan2-pti A view of the Lok Sabha during Winter Session of Parliament in New Delhi, Wednesday | PTI

Union Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad introduced the Aadhaar and Other Laws (Amendment) Bill, 2018, amid ruckus in the Lok Sabha on Wednesday. Amid continuing protests by members of the AIADMK and the TDP over Cauvery river issue and demand for special financial assistance for Amravati, Speaker Sumitra Mahajan allowed the introduction of the bill.

Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad asserted that the proposed amendment is in compliance with the Supreme Court judgement and that there will be no infringement of privacy. He also said that the government has prepared a data protection bill and it will be introduced in Parliament soon. "Let me clarify at the outset that the proposed amendment is done in compliance with the Supreme Court judgement. It (linking) is not mandatory at all," he said.

Regarding privacy issue, he said privacy is "not being invaded at all" from these amendments. The parallel authentication norms is there to safeguard privacy issues, he added. "We should not forget that Aadhaar has led to saving of Rs 90,000 crore" through Direct Benefit Transfers (DBT), the minister said, adding multilateral organisations such as World Bank and IMF have hailed Aadhaar as a unique innovation of India

Objections were raised on the bill by Shashi Tharoor (INC), Saugata Roy (Trinamool Congress) and N K Premachandran (RSP).

Shashi Tharoor opposed the introduction of the bill without public consultation. He said that the introduction was in violation of the Supreme Court judgment on right to privacy. Tharoor said that the government had said in court and elsewhere that they would bring a Data Protection Bill and enact it. He observed that the government has instead prematurely brought an Aadhaar Amendments Bill. He asked Prasad to withdraw and amend the bill.

Roy said that the proposed amendments infringe the Supreme Court judgement on Aadhaar matter. The proposed amendment will circumvent that judgement and it was brought without stakeholders' consultation, he claimed, adding "the bill should not be introduced".

N.K. Premachandran, MP from Kollam, also raised his objection and said that the Aadhaar Amendments Bill unlawfully delegates too much power to the executive branch on Aadhaar usage and authentication. He said that the legislative competency was being taken away. "What is the role of this Parliament?" he asked.

The amendment would provide legal backing for seeding of biometric ID Aadhaar with mobile numbers and bank accounts as an optional KYC (know your customer) after the Supreme Court barred mandatory use of the 12-digit unique identification number by private firms. This means the amendment allows voluntary use of Aadhaar for mobile SIM card and bank account authentication. The proposed amendments also make provision for 'Virtual ID' and voluntary and offline modes of using Aadhaar.

It also gives 18-year-olds the chance to opt out of the system within six months of reaching the age. The consent of the parent or guardian is a must for enrolling a child in Aadhaar. The amendment also specifies that a child should not be denied any subsidy, benefit or service for want of Aadhaar.

The government has also proposed a penalty of up to Rs 1 crore on entities that violate the provisions of Aadhaar Act, with an additional fine of up to Rs 10 lakh per day in case of continuous non-compliance, sources said.

Amid privacy concerns over Aadhaar, amendments have been planned in the Act, under which the government also proposes to arm the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) with more powers, similar to that of regulators, sources said.

The Aadhaar Act, at present, does not empower the body to take enforcement action against errant entities in the Aadhaar ecosystem. The government also plans to set up a UIDAI fund under the Aadhaar Act and has proposed that the authority be exempt from taxes on income. The Supreme Court had in September last year ruled that private companies cannot demand the 12-digit unique identity for providing services.

(With PTI inputs)