Government Introduces Aadhaar Amendment Bill in Lok Sabha

The amendment is expected to provide legal backing for voluntary seeding of Aadhaar with mobile numbers and bank accounts after the Supreme Court barred mandatory use by private firms.

New Delhi: The government on Wednesday introduced an amendment Bill in Lok Sabha to provide legal backing for voluntary seeding of biometric Aadhaar ID with mobile numbers and bank accounts after the Supreme Court barred mandatory use of the 12-digit unique identifier by private firms.

As the opposition raised concerns, law minister Ravi Shankar Prasad asserted that the proposed amendment is in compliance with the Supreme Court judgment and that there will be no infringement of privacy. He also said that the government has prepared a data protection Bill and it will be introduced in the parliament soon.

“Let me clarify at the outset that the proposed amendment is done in compliance with the Supreme Court judgment. It (linking) is not mandatory at all,” he said. Regarding privacy issue, he said privacy is “not being invaded at all” from these amendments. The parallel authentication norms are there to safeguard privacy issues, he added.

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“We should not forget that Aadhaar has led to saving of Rs 90,000 crore through Direct Benefit Transfers (DBT),” the minister said, adding that multilateral organisations such as World Bank and IMF have hailed Aadhaar as a unique innovation of India.

Objections were raised on the Bill by Shashi Tharoor (Indian National Congress), Saugata Roy (Trinamool Congress) and N.K. Premachandran (Revolutionary Socialist Party). Opposing the Bill, Roy said that the proposed amendments infringe the Supreme Court judgment on the Aadhaar matter. The proposed amendment will circumvent that judgment and it was brought without stakeholders’ consultation, he claimed, adding that “the Bill should not be introduced.”

Tharoor said that the Bill is in violation of the apex court judgment. “The Bill is premature because first, we need enactment of data protection law,” he said asking “where is the draft” of the data protection law.

“The Bill must be withdrawn and revised,” he added. Endorsing these views, Premachandran alleged that the Bill infringes the right of privacy. The minister said these objections are “misplaced” and “we are not violating the Supreme Court judgment.”

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The Bill to amend the Aadhaar (Targeted Delivery of Financial and Other Subsidies, Benefits and Services) Act, 2016 and another Bill to amend the Indian Telegraph Act, 1885 and Prevention of Money Laundering Act, 2002 was introduced in Lok Sabha amid ruckus by members of AIADMK and Telugu Desam Party over various issues.

The Lok Sabha Speaker immediately adjourned the House till 2 pm after the introduction of these bills.

In December 2018, the Union cabinet had approved amending the existing Aadhaar law.

The Cabinet, headed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, approved amendments to the Telegraph Act and the Prevention of Money Laundering Act (PMLA) after the Supreme Court in September imposed restrictions on the use of Aadhaar by private companies.

The two Acts are being amended to provide for voluntary sharing of the 12-digit identification number for obtaining new mobile phone connections and for the opening of bank accounts.

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The changes in the relevant sections of the Telegraph Act and PMLA will be effected through the original Aadhaar Act.

Under the amendments, an Aadhaar holder can opt for offline verification through QR code and will not require to share his or her actual Aadhaar number.

The Supreme Court had struck down Section 57 of the Aadhaar Act that made seeding of the biometric ID with SIMs and bank accounts mandatory, saying it had no legal backing.