Aadhaar bill: With no respect for the law

There is reason to wonder if this law is intended to be taken seriously, except in getting everyone on the data base, making it a scheme to number the population, and giving extraordinary powers to the UIDAI.

Written by Usha Ramanathan | Updated: March 17, 2016 2:17 pm
Aadhar bill, Rajya sabha, lok sabha To give Mr Jaitley his due, he has been honest this time round and dropped even the pretence of consent.

The disrespect for the law has been an abiding aspect of the UID project, never mind the government (facts have mattered as little, but that is for another time).

In the beginning there was no law; only an executive notification which meant that people did not have any idea of what the scope and limits of the project were. Then, when the pressure built up for a law to be enacted, a Bill was introduced in Rajya Sabha in December 2010, over two months after collection of information and enrolment had begun. In December 2011, a Standing Committee of Parliament, having considered the Bill and the project, rejected not just the Bill but also found that the project should go back to the drawing board.

In the beginning, the project was promoted as voluntary. Then, by the end of 2012, the people of this country were warned that the UID was becoming compulsory in a variety of fields, and we had better get enrolled or risk getting left out. When people went to court challenging the project as being a tool for surveillance, as violative of privacy, as based on imperfect and untested technology, and the court directed that the UID number should not be made mandatory, that order was unapologetically flouted. It was the bullying and threats of exclusion from subsidies and services that drove people to enrol, and then that was projected as voluntary enrolment.

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Now, we are told that the number on the data base is close to a 100 crore, and that that establishes it as a project loved and happily adopted by the people. The troughs and swells of enrolment, however, would tell another tale. Whenever the court spoke to say that no one can be denied any service because they do not have a UID number, there would be a dramatic slowing down of enrolment. When the government would override this injunction and refuse any service to those who could not show they had enrolled, the enrolments would go up. To suggest that this data base was built with the ‘consent’ of the people enrolling would be farther from the truth than imagination can reach. To give Mr Jaitley his due, he has been honest this time round and dropped even the pretence of consent. It doesn’t matter what you think of enrolment; just do it, or else.

From its early stages, privacy was recognised as a serious concern in the context of this project, but it was sidestepped on the pretext either that privacy was a thing of the past anyway, what with Google and Facebook and social media; or that privacy is a larger issue than just the UID project and so should be dealt with in some other forum. Till the day the Attorney General told the court, on behalf of the project, that privacy is not even a fundamental right in the Indian Constitution. That the government was arguing in another case in a courtroom down the corridor that the court should not shoot down the criminal offence of defamation so that the government could safeguard the privacy interests of the people, is a demonstration of deep cynicism and of the importance of tactical ploys over constitutional principles.

Then, when the August 11, 2015 order of the Supreme Court became an obstruction to mandating enrolment, and demand the number as a precondition to getting any service or subsidy, that prompted the move to get past the court order by the passage of the law. And so, the short-circuiting of the Constitution and shortchanging Parliament.

The words Consolidated Fund of India feature in the Bill; but Article 110 is unfortunately clear that a money bill can by definition only contain provisions that pertain to the specific categories of taxation and appropriation from the Consolidated Fund or the Contingency Fund of India; and even incidental taxes, fines and penalties do not a money bill make. The ‘only’ speaks volumes. The UID Bill no way fits the definition of a money bill.

In fact, what the Bill does not do is provide any subsidy, benefit or service. All it does is to say that, if anything is going to be provided by the state, then the UID number may be made a ‘condition’ to getting anything done.

The definitions of each of these terms – subsidies, benefits, services – is sprawling and all over the place. So, ‘benefit’ means any advantage, gift, reward, relief, or payment, in cash or kind …”, and it can be made conditional on UID enrolment. And any private company or person too can ask for the UID number beforehanding over such ‘benefits’. How much of this idea of benefits, or services, including that with which a private company is concerned, has to do with the Consolidated Fund? Does it matter?

There is reason to wonder if this law is intended to be taken seriously, except in getting everyone on the data base, making it a scheme to number the population, and giving extraordinary powers to the UIDAI. Why? Take a look at the definition of ‘resident’. It says that only residents will be enrolled and given numbers; and to qualify as a resident a person must have been resident in India for at least 182 days in the preceding 12 months. One can provide evidence of not being in the country for a certain period by producing a travel document, but what is proof that one has been in India for 182 days? Also, in this grand data base of a 100 crore people, how many people have been enrolled after their residence in India was verified? Will anyone really care what the law says? After all, structures of authority and control are all within the UIDAI and the central government; the people are merely subjects of the state who may be bullied at will.

This continuity between governments in their disregard for the law is stunning.

Views expressed by the author are personal.