The Aadhaar (Targeted Delivery of Financial and Other Subsidies, Benefits and Services) Bill, 2016, was introduced in the Lok Sabha as a money Bill. The characteristic feature of a money Bill is that it is not introduced in both the Houses. It is introduced only in the Lok Sabha; from the Lok Sabha, the Bill is just transmitted to the Rajya Sabha. The Upper House cannot make amendments to the Bill; it can only recommend amendments to the Lok Sabha, which can reject the amendments. Further, if the Bill is not returned to the Lok Sabha within 14 days from the date of receipt, it may be deemed as passed by both the Houses.
The Supreme Court had, in August 2015, delivered a landmark order. First, it referred the question of whether privacy is a fundamental right to a larger constitutional bench. Secondly, it ruled that Aadhaar is not mandatory. The Aadhaar Bill interferes with both these directions.
Finance Minister Arun Jaitley’s argument that Chapter VI of the Bill addresses privacy concerns is fallacious. Chapter VI has clauses that protect the biometric and personal data stored with the CIDR. However, as mentioned, Aadhaar-induced exposure of personal information is not limited to the CIDR; rather, it is a systemic concern. When public and private agencies collect and transmit personal information, including biometrics, it would always be possible for them to also retain a copy. Experience shows that such personal data quickly turn into a commodity freely available for purchase.
An important claim by the proponents of Aadhaar has been that duplication of beneficiaries in government schemes can be eliminated using Aadhaar, which would save tens of thousands of crores to the public exchequer. Within the social sector, the claims regarding liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) subsidies have occupied a prominent place. In Parliament, Jaitley claimed that “targeted subsidy through Aadhaar cards of LPG consumers had resulted in savings of over Rs.15,000 crore”. Such claims were used by the government to persuade the Supreme Court on the need to allow mandatory use of Aadhaar. However, Jaitley’s claim has been shown to be totally wrong by some brilliant work at the International Institute of Sustainable Development (IISD).
Jaitley’s positioning of the Bill as pro-poor and welfare-oriented is nothing but a clever ploy to mask the real intentions behind it. The real intention behind the Aadhaar project is not to improve welfare or reduce poverty but to effect a neoliberal transformation of the state’s role in the social sector (see “Identity Concerns”, Frontline, November 19, 2011). Such an objective has two elements. The first is a shift from universalism to targeting. Aadhaar is not intended to expand or universalise social services. Its aim is to keep benefits restricted to “targeted” sections, ensure targeting with technological precision, and limit the government’s fiscal commitments. The second is a shift from direct provision to indirect provision of social services. Here, existing institutions of direct intervention are dismantled and replaced by new institutions of indirect provision intermediated by the market. The proposed objective of converting all in-kind provisions to in-cash transfers is a prime example. Citizens are provided with cash and are told to purchase the once state-provided services from the “market”. Here, Aadhaar is not a tool of empowerment; it is actually an alibi for the state to leave the citizen unmarked in the market for social services.