Updated: March 4, 2016 12:20:41 am
In the course of his budget speech, the finance minister had alluded to the government’s resolve to extend statutory backing to Aadhaar and, within the week, it has tabled the requisite bill in the Lok Sabha. This is what the UPA government should have done right in the beginning, when it appointed Nandan Nilekani to create the technology framework for a biometric ID. Nilekani himself should have requested legislation instead of insisting that data security could be assured technologically. A law defining biometric IDs and the parameters within which they can be legally used would have annulled the first argument against the project, concerning privacy. There is little disagreement about its utility and appropriateness for promoting financial inclusion and leakproofing direct benefit transfers from government, and the NDA has rightly forged ahead to give Aadhaar a statutory basis as an opt-in system for securing benefits.
The government has prudently moved a money bill, which means that its lack of numbers in the Upper House will not be an impediment. The Rajya Sabha’s role is limited to returning the Aadhaar Bill to the Lok Sabha with recommendations within a set timeframe. It cannot block or alter the legislation, but can sound warnings. If it does, the government should pay heed, or it would run the risk of detracting from the perceived legitimacy of Aadhaar. While pushing Aadhaar through as a money bill is tactically sound, for it will be signed into law, the government must know that it is sidestepping extended parliamentary debate. In the legislature, discussion confers credibility more surely than numbers, and being responsive to objections about Aadhaar would strengthen the ID. Resistance to Aadhaar partly owes to the perception that it was neither secure nor voluntary, and activism and lawsuits retarding its deployment resulted.
The bill goes into privacy issues, but it cannot be assumed that matters on these questions pending before a Constitution bench of the Supreme Court will melt away. However, the bill is a decisive step towards a leakproof subsidy regime and, eventually, a cashless economy. The latter should be the political goal of Aadhaar — a financial system where money is dematerialised, value is transferred electronically and the lack of cash makes corruption unrewarding. Politically, that is a target worth shooting for.
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