The issue of bills being categorised as money bills in an attempt to circumvent the Rajya Sabha has once again become live. On Friday, the Lok Sabha passed the Aadhaar (Targeted Delivery of Financial and Other Subsidies, Benefits and Services) Bill, 2016, which Finance Minister Arun Jaitley asserted was a money bill. But is it actually a money bill?
In all democratic parliaments, as in India, the Lower House alone has the power to grant money to the executive. A bill that deals with such matters is called a money bill. A money bill cannot be passed or rejected by the Rajya Sabha, which can keep such a bill for only 14 days, after which it will be deemed to have been passed by both Houses.
As per Article 110(1), a bill that contains only provisions dealing with the following qualifies as a money bill: One, the imposition, abolition, remission, alteration or regulation of any tax; two, regulation of borrowing or the giving of any guarantee by the government of India, or undertaking financial obligation by the government; three, the custody of the Consolidated Fund of India (CFI) or the Contingency Fund of India, the payment of moneys into or withdrawal from them; four, the appropriation of moneys out of the CFI; five, declaring any expenditure as a charged expenditure on the CFI; six, the receipt of money on account of the CFI or the public account of India or the ambit of accounts of the Union or of a state; seven, any matter incidental to the above issues.
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Let’s examine the Aadhaar bill in the light of the above definition. The bill does not deal with imposition, abolition, alteration, etc, of tax; nor does it deal with the regulation of borrowing or giving a guarantee by the government or an amendment in respect of any financial obligation to be undertaken by the government. This bill also does not deal with the custody of the CFI, etc. The moneys paid into or withdrawn from such funds are incidental. The bill is not an appropriation bill that appropriates money from the CFI. It does not deal with declaring any expenditure as a charge on that fund. Further, it does not deal with the receipt of money on account of the CFI or the public account, or the custody or issue of such money, or the audit of the accounts of the Union or states. It may also be noted that a bill becomes a money bill when it contains only provisions dealing with any of the above matters. If a bill contains any other matters, it is not a money bill.
The object of the Aadhaar bill is to create a right to obtain a unique identity number, regulate the enrolment process to collect demographic and biometric information, and create a statutory authority for regulating and supervising the process. It also specifies offences and penalties. The obvious purpose of the bill is to deal with all aspects relating to the unique identity number of Indian residents, which will be used for multiple purposes. Clause 4(3) states that the Aadhaar number may be accepted as proof for “any purpose”, not merely for the payment of subsidy or other monetary benefits.
The above analysis clearly shows that the Aadhaar bill is not a money bill. Subtle attempts have been made to give it the appearance of a money bill by referring to the CFI in certain clauses. But this does not alter the character of the bill, which does not deal with the CFI. Further, subsidies, subventions, etc, are not a part of this bill. If the government had introduced a bill exclusively dealing with these, it would have been a money bill. But the Aadhaar bill does not make any provision for subsidies or other government benefits or specify beneficiaries.
The Aadhaar bill comes under the category of financial bills under Article 117, which would inter alia involve expenditure from the CFI. The Constitution stipulates that such bills be considered only after the president has recommended their consideration. However, such bills can be introduced in either House and, as per Article 107(2), need to be passed by both Houses.
Article 110(3) confirms finality on the speaker’s decision on the question of whether a bill is a money bill. But this constitutional provision cannot be seen as a convenient tool to deal with an inconvenient second chamber. The Constitution reposes faith in the speaker’s fairness and objectivity. Article 110(1) provides the touchstone of the decision to be taken by the speaker under Article 110(3). Any decision actuated by extraneous considerations can’t be a proper decision under Article 110(3). The speaker’s decision needs to be in conformity with the constitutional provisions. If not, it is no decision under the Constitution.