Dynamics behind the database project
Beginning with its passage as a Money Bill, much around the Aadhaar is couched in misinformation and violation
The passage of the Aadhaar Act as a Money Bill in March 2016 was an open taunt — telling the Rajya Sabha that it could be made redundant. There are many reasons why this was not a Money Bill. One, the Constitution provides for a Money Bill only to ensure that the government does not screech to a halt because it cannot access resources that keep the wheels of government turning. It was not to create any extraordinary power which the government can use at will. Article 110 is categorical that a Money Bill shall contain only provisions that deal with moneys mentioned in those provisions. If it speaks of anything else, it does not bear the character of a Money Bill.
Two, the Aadhaar Bill 2016 had been preceded by the National Identification Authority of India (NIAI) Bill, which was introduced in the Rajya Sabha in December 2010. The Bill was referred to the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Finance, whose members, cutting across party lines — with Yashwant Sinha of the BJP as its chairperson — rejected the Bill and the project, and asked the government to take them both back to the drawing board. Many factors roused the committee’s ire — that the project was launched when a law was still to be debated, the rampant use of biometrics, that it made no distinction between citizens and others, that there was “no clarity of purpose”. The UPA government decided to ignore the report, forget about the Bill, and carry on with the project. When the present government decided that they wanted the cover of law, they first withdrew the NIAI Bill from the Rajya Sabha. Then they introduced the Aadhaar Bill in the Lok Sabha as a Money Bill. The case challenging this is in the Supreme Court (SC). The Speaker decided to accept that this was indeed a Money Bill; but the Speaker’s discretion is not unfettered.
Also, the finance minister was misinformed that there were precedents, and that the Juvenile Justice Act, for instance, was passed as a Money Bill in 1986. This, as Congress MP Jairam Ramesh corrected the finance minister in the Rajya Sabha, was wrong. It is well possible that it was this advice from the finance minister that misled the Speaker when she resolved that the Aadhaar Act was a Money Bill. It is, therefore, important to find out what did inform her decision.
Further, there is no way that Section 57 of the Aadhaar Act, which allows private companies to use the Unique Identification (UID) database, could find place in a Money Bill.
Six orders of the SC, between September 23, 2013 and October 15, 2015, have been flagrantly violated by the government. On August 11, 2015, the judges directed that the UID may not be used in any system other than PDS and LPG. The use of the UID number, even in these, must be voluntary. And the government must advertise widely to let people know that enrolment on the UID database is not mandatory.
On October 15, 2015, a bench of five judges extended its use to the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act, Employees’ Provident Fund Organisation, pensions and Jan-Dhan Yojana, on the assurance given by the attorney general that it would be voluntary. The court was categorical that it is not to be used anywhere else — that is, it is not about being voluntary or mandatory, but its very use prohibited — till the court hears and finally decides the cases pending before it. On September 14, 2016, close to six months after the Aadhaar Act had been passed by the Lok Sabha, an SC bench directed the government to remove the Aadhaar number as mandatory for student scholarships, recognising that this violated the SC’s October 15, 2015 order.
The petitions in the court raise questions of national security — including the involvement of companies such as L-1 Identity Solutions and Safran Morpho, which have close relationships with the CIA, Homeland Security and foreign governments (Safran, for instance, is part-owned by the French government). Exclusion — evidence continues to pour in that the poor, in whose name the project is being promoted, are unable to get food, work and pensions because of UID, and especially biometrics, becoming a hurdle. ‘Seeding’ in every database makes surveillance, tagging, profiling and convergence of data inevitable. Privacy — which the government has denied is a right at all, causing the court to worry that without privacy, the right to liberty would be “denuded of vigour and vitality.”
Tales of coercion and illegality have now reached astounding proportions. According to a notification from the ministry of women and child development, bonded labour, persons doing manual scavenging, and women rescued from prostitution will not be rehabilitated unless they have an Aadhaar number embedded in the database — and these are people who aspire to erase these identities as they move on. Bhopal gas victims cannot get compensation, soldiers cannot get pensions, disabled persons will not get assistance, senior citizens will not get rail concessions. Now we are being told that PAN cards will be cancelled, and tax returns cannot be filed without the Aadhaar number ‘seeded’ in the database. And, through all of this, the court is yet to find the time to hear and decide matters it has itself repeatedly said is ‘urgent’.