The Aadhaar Card program has been active since 2010 and has successfully enrolled the majority of Indian citizens by this point. However, the original legislation supporting this program was still pending in Parliament until early 2016. The Aadhaar Bill was finally passed on 11th March 2016 by the Lok Sabha but in controversial circumstances.
To clear the confusion, we address the six most pressing questions that you may have about the Aadhaar Bill:
1. What is Aadhaar?
The Aadhaar Card is like the U.S. Social Security Number (SSN). The Unique Identification Authority of India (UIADAI) will issue and manage the citizen’s account, which will be connected to the 12-digit UID number on each Aadhaar Card. Since the scheme hopes to cover all 1.2 billion Indians, it is easily the world’s largest identification programme.
2. Why is such a programme helpful?
An Aadhaar Card can be used as a valid proof of ID for a number of things – from applying for passports and drivers’ licenses to LPG connections and opening bank accounts.
Another benefit of the programme was to use Aadhar as a payment method. Owing to the large population in India, the government offers many subsidies and schemes to uplift the rural population. But however, these initiatives do not reach the final beneficiaries due to rampant corruption. One such scheme was the Jan Dhan Yojna. So, in 2015 the Government authorised Aadhaar as a payment method for Direct Cash Transfers (DCT) through the Jan Dhan Yojana scheme (plus the use of mobile numbers).
This move was to help avoid loss of money in corruption, leakages and bribes, keep a track on subsidy expenditures and prevent wastage and mismanagement.
3. What is the Aadhaar Bill?
The Aadhar Bill was first proposed in the year 2010, but however, it needed various improvements and updates. After implementing the necessary changes, the final bill was passed in 2016 and was called the Aadhaar (Targeted Delivery of Financial and Other Subsidies, Benefits and Services) Bill 2016.
As per the bill, any Indian citizen could apply for the Aadhar card and avail the benefits offered by the government. This bill gave the UID scheme the necessary backing it needed to deliver and to manage state subsidies better. It was presented in the Lok Sabha on 3rd March 2016, by Finance Minister Arun Jaitley.
4. Why is it debated?
For starters, the NDA-side of the Lok Sabha wanted to treat the Aadhaar Bill as a Money Bill, because it dealt with the collection and dispensation of money. A Money Bill does not require the approval of the Rajya Sabha for it to come into effect. Congress members in both Houses of Parliament were opposed to evaluating the Aadhaar Bill as a Money Bill, and arguments on the security and privacy concerns related to the biometric requirements of the Aadhaar Card were brought up.
5. Do these concerns have any justification?
One may argue that biometric data provided to the state under the UID scheme violates an individual’s right to privacy and security. There have also been a number of cases reported of immigrants paying bribes to acquire Aadhaar Cards illegally. On the other hand, the scheme has the potential to save the Government enormous amounts of money (Rs. 14,000 crores in one year alone) by ensuring better initiatives and efficient distribution systems.
6. What is its status?
The Aadhaar Bill was passed in the Lok Sabha, where the BJP has a majority. But the Congress-dominated Rajya Sabha refused to pass the Bill, sending it back to the Lower House with suggestions for a number of amendments. Several Opposition leaders like Sitaram Yechury (CPI-M), K.D. Tyagi (JDU) and Jairam Ramesh (INC) were vehemently opposed to the Bill. Ultimately, Finance Minister Jaitley and Lok Sabha Speaker Sumitra Mahajan had the final authority to pass the legislation as a Money Bill, and by 16th March 2016, the Rajya Sabha had no option but to cooperate.
Currently, about 88.2% of our population has enrolled for the Aadhar. The government has made Aadhar mandatory for opening bank accounts as well as for transactions above Rs. 50,000. Now, existing bank account holders will also need to link their Aadhar number to their accounts by 31st December 2017 otherwise their accounts will become invalid.