Finance minister Arun Jaitley said on Wednesday that the Aadhaar Bill passed by the Lok Sabha last week has laid down strict measures to protect the privacy of citizens.
Social activists have criticised the Centre, saying the proposed legislation may be misused for “mass surveillance”.
Around 980 million citizens have been enrolled for the 12-digit biometric unique identification number called Aadhaar, a scheme conceived in 2009. By the end of 2016, the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) aims to enrol all eligible 1.1 billion residents.
“The previous UPA government had also brought a legislation on Aadhaar. In that bill, the purpose of the personal data and biometrics information collected through the exercise was not defined,” Jaitley said while introducing the bill in the Rajya Sabha.
“Compared to the UPA bill, the proposed law lays down a very strict procedure, the privacy law is much more tightened,” he said.
The Aadhaar programme relies on biometrics, considered the best way to establish a unique identity. It uses the combination of fingerprints and retina scans, and accounts for situations where a resident may not have hands or eyes.
The new bill places restrictions on when and how the UIDAI can share data and notes that the biometric information – fingerprint and iris scans – will not be shared with anyone.
But the legislation gives the government sweeping powers to access the data for “efficient, transparent and targeted delivery of subsidies, benefits and services”, raising suspicions that the database could be used for surveillance.
The Aadhaar scheme is expected to help the government deliver benefits of major central schemes to the people, and the Centre says it save thousands of crores rupees.
“Both central and state governments give several subsidies to people. There are monetary assistances, cost rebates, subsidies etc. given which run into lakhs of crores of rupees. Now, these subsidies have to be quantified amounts given to identifiable sections,” Jaitley said.
“If subsidies are given as unquantified amounts to unidentified sections, then non-merit people will get subsidies and merit people will not get it… So, for people to get the benefit of subsidies, the production of UID or other alternative document has to be the pre-condition.”
Jaitley said the UPA’s bill was for the mere creation of a UID authority and that it was not a money bill, even though the Opposition has objected to the government’s move of converting the Aadhaar Bill into a money bill.
The Rajya Sabha, where the government does not have the numbers, has no role in passing a money bill. Once passed by the Lok Sabha, it becomes a law even if the Upper House does not return it within 14 days.
Although the Upper House can’t amend a money bill, it can recommend amendments, which can be accepted or rejected by the Lok Sabha.
In case amendments are recommended, the bill will remain pending unless the process is completed in the Lok Sabha.