The Lok Sabha on Thursday unanimously passed the Aadhaar and Other Laws (Amendment) Bill, 2019, which aims to impose strict penalties for violation of norms set for the use of Aadhaar and violation of privacy.
Union Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad introduced the Bill to amend the Aadhaar (Targeted Delivery of Financial and Other Subsidies, Benefits and Services) Act, 2016 and to further amend the Indian Telegraph Act, 1885, and the Prevention of Money Laundering Act, 2002.
Participating in the debate, Prasad said the Bill was people-friendly and citizen-centric and that it would enable the UIDAI to have a more robust mechanism to serve public interest and act as a deterrent against the misuse of Aadhaar.
With the amendment to the Bill, Prasad claimed that no individual shall be compelled to provide proof of possession of Aadhaar number or undergo authentication for the purpose of establishing his identity, unless it was so provided by a law made by the Parliament.
The Bill will help the public in opening bank accounts and to use Aadhaar number for authentication on voluntary basis as acceptable KYC document, he said.
“The amendment will allow voluntary use of Aadhaar number in physical or electronic form by authentication or offline verification with the consent of the Aadhaar number holder. It will also allow the use of the 12-digit Aadhaar number and its alternative virtual identity to conceal the actual Aadhaar number of an individual. The Bill also provides the option to the children, who are Aadhaar number holders, to cancel it on attaining adult age,” the Minister said.
He said the proposed amendments are “wholesome” and in compliance with the Supreme Court’s order. Rejecting the concerns of the members over privacy of data, Prasad sought to know from the opposition benches that if people of the country were happy, why were they unhappy.
“We have ensured safeguards for the prohibition of data theft,” the Minister said, adding that India’s data sovereignty needed to be protected fully and categorically and Aadhaar was clear on it.
Slamming the members for referring to the Supreme Court’s order to oppose the Bill, Prasad said, “Don’t turn this House into a court. We are here to make laws and we also have the power to undo judgment. Please don’t minimise your power. The people of the country have given you power to frame laws.”
He also said that more than 123 crore people have been enrolled in Aadhar and around 70 crore mobile phones were connected to Aadhaar numbers. He said around 2.5 crore Aadhar authentications were done daily in the country.
Aadhar was getting appreciation globally and many countries are showing interest to follow India’s digital identification scheme, Prasad said.
The Bill replaced an ordinance promulgated on March 2. The Cabinet on June 13 approved the Bill which established that no individual can be compelled to provide proof of Aadhaar number unless provided by the law, and that Aadhaar number on voluntary basis shall be accepted as KYC document.
The Congress, Trinamool Congress, People’s Democratic Party and some other opposition members opposed the frequent promulgation of ordinances by the government.
Opposing the Bill, leader of Congress in the Lok Sabha Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury said the government used the ordinance route to bring in the legislation and criticised the government for providing legal backing for voluntary seeding of biometric Aadhaar ID with mobile numbers and bank accounts.
He said the ordinance was issued by the NDA government in its first term (2014-19) and the current government has brought it as a legislation. The government is “resorting to the ordinance route without any rhyme and reason,” Chowdhury said.
He said it was the UPA government which brought in the law, to which Prasad said the NDA government gave legal status to Aadhaar.
“You have loaned the concept of Aadhaar from us,” Chowdhury said. He also said that the Supreme Court had rapped the government for violating privacy in Aadhaar.
Trinamool MP Mahua Moitra opposed the Bill, saying “it violates the Supreme Court judgment and lacks transparency”.
“How can I be debating the Bill and be able to give assent for something I am not clear about and which is not transparent,” she said, asking for more transparency in the measure during the debate on the Bill.
“This bill strikes at the very heart of the privacy of an individual’s data. This is what the Supreme Court in their judgement also tried to talk about,” said Moitra.
She said that Addhar was meant to provide services to the poor and was never meant to provide data.
Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) MP Supriya Sule alleged that people’s data were being compromised to benefit the private sector. “People’s data are allowed to benefit the private sector which is shameful for the government,” she said.
The NCP MP from Baramati parliamentary constituency said that 65 crore people connected their mobiles phones to Aadhaar because there was no other option available.
Participating in the debate, Biju Janata Dal (BJD) MP Pinaki Misra said the government will keep tinkering with the law till it crystalises. Describing it as a “good” law, the BJD MP said that concerns over breach of privacy were not unfounded.
He also called for bringing in a data protection law simultaneously, alleging that a neighbouring country was constantly looking for data to benefit its interests. The MP said there was a need to protect data from “egregious agencies”.