Aadhaar didn’t fit the bill

UPA’s version was inadequate. NDA must improve upon it.

Written by Surjit S Bhalla | Updated: July 10, 2014 1:46 pm
It’s wrong to equate the views of the committee with the views of the party to which the chairman belonged. In the standing committee, it was the UPA that was in a majority. It’s wrong to equate the views of the committee with the views of the party to which the chairman belonged. In the standing committee, it was the UPA that was in a majority.

In your editorial on July 7 (‘A stronger Aadhaar’, IE) you have stated that “The BJP is complicit in Aadhaar’s uncertain legal status — the UPA was forced to rely on executive orders because the UIDAI bill was held up by the Yashwant Sinha-headed standing committee on finance.” The impression your editorial seeks to convey is entirely erroneous. It is wrong on your part to equate the views of the committee with the views of the party to which the chairman of the committee belonged.

A standing committee of Parliament is a multiparty committee consisting of 20 members of Lok Sabha and 10 members of Rajya Sabha, apart from the chairman, in which the majority in Parliament is fully reflected. So, in the standing committee on finance, it was the UPA that was in a majority, and not the BJP. The committee on finance is serviced by the Lok Sabha secretariat, which prepares draft reports that are then put up to the chairman and, after his approval, before the committee for discussion and adoption. The same procedure was followed while adopting this report also. Four notes of dissent were submitted, which were duly incorporated in the final report before it was presented to Parliament.

The final paragraph of the report states: “In view of the aforementioned concerns and apprehensions about the UID scheme, particularly considering the contradictions and ambiguities within the government on its implementation as well as implications, the committee categorically convey their unacceptability of the National Identification Authority of India Bill, 2010, in its present form. The committee would thus urge the government to reconsider and review the UID scheme, as also the proposals contained in the bill in all its ramifications and bring forth a fresh legislation before Parliament”. The report was presented to Parliament on December 11, 2011. The government never came back to Parliament with a new bill.

The reports of parliamentary standing committees are recommendatory in nature. The government of the day may accept them in toto or partially, or even reject them in toto for good reason. What it should not do is sit on the recommendations forever. Then, the fault lies with the government and not with the committee or the committee system.

The concept of a unique identification scheme was first discussed in 2006 and administrative approval for the scheme “Unique ID for BPL Families” was given on March 3, 2006, by the department of IT. On December 4, 2006, an EGoM was set up to coordinate work between the registrar general, engaged in the preparation of the National Population Register and issuance of multipurpose national identity cards to Indian citizens, and Aadhaar, which was to be issued to all residents. In its meeting on November 4, 2008, the EGoM decided to notify UIDAI as an executive authority to be anchored in the Planning Commission for five years.

The UIDAI was constituted on January 28, 2009. Subsequently, when it was realised that certain aspects of UIDAI’s work needed a legal basis, the government decided to give it statutory backing, prepared a bill and introduced it in Rajya Sabha on December 3, 2010, two years after the UIDAI was set up. The bill was referred to the standing committee on finance on December 10, 2010, and was returned to Parliament after examination on December 9, 2011. In the course of its detailed examination of the bill, the committee heard the oral testimony of the ministry of planning and the UIDAI, and also obtained written replies to questions from them. Some of the issues examined were: First, whether the scheme was voluntary or compulsory. There was already a trend among various authorities to make an Aadhaar number compulsory for receiving benefits and services. Second, whether the requirement of furnishing “other documents” as proof of address, even after the issuance of an Aadhaar number, would render the claim that Aadhaar is to be used as a general proof of identity and address meaningless.

Third, whether Aadhaar was equipped to cover the entire marginalised population considering that it did not have statistical data relating to it and, even where it did, as much as 15 per cent of the population covered would be deprived of the biometric data because it was dependent on manual labour, which alters fingerprints with time. Fourth, whether the issuance of Aadhaar numbers to all residents would entitle illegal immigrants to it. Fifth, whether the fundamental difference in approach between Aadhaar and the NPR could be reconciled by this bill. Sixth, whether the various security concerns raised within the government and which had not been satisfactorily settled, could be left lingering even by the bill.

The bill as prepared by the UPA was inadequate and ill-equipped to deal with the challenge. Its passage would have created more problems than it would have solved. The UPA created the UIDAI by an executive order and it was only after it realised that a legal framework was needed that it hurriedly prepared the bill in question. The committee would have failed in its duty if it had not pointed out the inherent weaknesses in the bill. I hope the NDA government will take note of the recommendations of the committee, amend the bill, synergise it with the NPR and only then move forward. I earnestly hope that it will avoid the mistakes the UPA made in the implementation of this entirely laudable scheme.

The writer is a member of the BJP