The Lok Sabha, dominated by Prime Minister Narendra Modi's Bharatiya Janata Party, voted Wednesday to reject the amendments to the Aadhaar Bill suggested by the Congress party in the Rajya Sabha. This has paved the way for the use of the biometric database of nearly a billion people for "national security." The bill has raised concerns over privacy breach of millions of Indians.
The Lower House of Parliament had passed the Aadhaar (Delivery of Benefits, Subsidies and Services) Bill, 2016, last week as a money bill, thus keeping the power with itself for rejecting amendments by the Upper House. Some of the amendments sought by the Rajya Sabha entailed allowing a person to opt out of the database system and deleting of a clause to ensure the bill is not used for purposes other than those provided, according to the Hindu. The Lok Sabha voted 76-64 to undo the five amendments.
The Aadhar Bill has raised privacy issues, with Reuters citing privacy advocates stating it could bring in more intensive surveillance than even the National Security Agency's spying on Americans revealed by Edward Snowden. "Can the government ... assure us that this Aadhaar card and the data that will be collected under it – biometric, biological, iris scan, finger print, everything put together – will not be misused as has been done by the NSA in the U.S.?" Tathagata Satpathy, a lawmaker from Odisha, questioned while speaking to the news agency.
Congress leader Jairam Ramesh, who moved the five amendments to the Aadhaar Bill, had Wednesday raised concerns of mass surveillance, and the party had led the Rajya Sabha to adopt changes including replacing the term "national security" with "public emergency or in the interest of public safety."
The other two amendments adopted in the Rajya Sabha, before they were nullified by the Lok Sabha, were providing alternative mechanisms for delivery of services and subsidies to those choosing not to enrol under the Aadhaar scheme, and mandating the inclusion of the Central Vigilance Commissioner or the Comptroller and Auditor-General in the Oversight Committee.
Nearly a billion people have registered for the Aadhaar scheme, which is meant to streamline targeted delivery of subsidies and benefits.
The Supreme Court will hear the argument raised by a writ petition that Aadhaar may violate the right to privacy, and the apex court is yet to decide whether right to privacy is a fundamental right.