The Lok Sabha on 16th March passed the Aadhar Bill, in a smooth manner by introducing it as a money bill. While introducing the bill amid opposition in Lok Sabha, Arun Jaitley explained the intent and nature of the bill as being a money bill – that the principal purpose of this Bill is to empower the government to distribute the resources of the government to the deserving people and save revenue so that it does not go to undeserving people. This political strategy to introduce a bill as money bill has fulfilled the desire of the Union Government to pass it in an unprecedented hurry and urgency. A money bill is a special bill, which a party in power can use at the time when they do not have a number in the Rajya Sabha to pass certain laws. Article 110 of the constitution of India defines a money bill as dealing with the imposition, abolition, remission, alteration or regulation of any tax, the regulation of borrowing by the government of India, and the regulation of the Consolidated Fund of India, including the appropriation of money out of this fund. The peculiar nature of money bill is that, it is always introduced and passed in the Lok Sabha only and the role of Rajya Sabha is advisory, to the extent that it can only suggest amendments. It is up to the Lok Sabha that whether they want to accept it or not. To decide whether a bill is a money bill or not, the decision of the Speaker is final who authorizes on a certificate that a bill is a money bill or not before sending it to the President for his assent and the President is also bound with the decision of the speaker in this regard. Aadhaar or UID was launched in 2009, and it was meant to collect the biometric data only for assigning a Unique Identification Number. Gradually, it was integrated with a number of schemes, which forced the people to enroll for it, resulting in today’s situation that you need this number for all the day-to-day business from marriage registration to get an admission in school, apart from the schemes related to subsidy like LPG and ration. However, since its inception, the scheme was always shrouded in controversies primarily on the issues of privacy and exclusion of beneficiaries due to duplication of data and several other problems incidental to it.
Another bone of contention was it being introduced as a money bill. On 16th March in a debate in Rajya Sabha senior parliamentarian Sitaram Yechury raised his objection by saying that “unfortunately, it [Aadhar Bill] has been moved as a Money Bill. The Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme also had money drawn from the Consolidated Fund of India. It was not a Money Bill. The Food Security Act also had the Consolidated Fund of India paying out the money. But that is not a Money Bill. But this, by their own choice, they have chosen to classify as a money bill. I had objected to this earlier”. Upon this, the finance minister Arun Jaitley replied to Yechury’s objection and said that any bill, on which money is spent, is not a money bill, but if the principal purpose of the bill is the manner of spending the money, then it is a money bill. And he entirely overlooked the objections and suggestions made by the members of the Rajya Sabha.
On the careful reading of the entire scheme of the bill, what is apparent is that the principal purpose of the bill is to assign a Unique Identification Number (UID) only. Therefore, while a very literalist reading of Article 110 may justify classifying it as a money bill, to do so would violate the understanding followed in parliamentary precedents. Arvind P. Datar, a senior advocate of the Supreme Court of India, in his article published on 12th January in the Indian Express, makes some interesting points, wherein he states-
“Section 16 of the University Grants Commission Act, 1956, provides for a ‘fund of the commission’ to which the Central government grants money. Does this make the University Grants Commission Bill a money bill? The answer would clearly be in the negative.
In the United Kingdom, Section 1(2) of the Parliament Act, 1911, defines a money bill as a public bill that, in the opinion of the speaker of the House of Commons, contains only provisions dealing with all or any of the following subjects: The imposition, repeal, remission, alteration or regulation of taxation; the imposition for the payment of debt or other financial purposes of charges on the Consolidated Fund or the National Loans Fund. The word ‘only’ is also present in Article 110(1), which is clearly modelled on Section 1(2). During the Constituent Assembly debates, Ghanshyam Singh Gupta moved an amendment to delete the word ‘only’ from Article 90 of the draft Constitution, which later became Article 110 of the Indian constitution.
On May 20, 1949, Gupta said: ‘Now Article 90 says that a bill shall be deemed to be a money bill if it contains only provisions dealing with the imposition, regulation, etc, of any tax or the borrowing of money, etc. This can mean that if there is a bill which has other provisions and also a provision about taxation or borrowing, etc, it will not become a money bill. If that is the intention, I have nothing to say; but if that is not the intention, I must say the word ‘only’ is dangerous, because if the bill does all these things and at the same time does something else also it will not be a money bill.’
The amendment moved by him was rejected by the Constituent Assembly. Thus, the position in the UK and India is that a money bill must contain only matters mentioned in Sub-clauses (a) to (g) of Article 110, although it may incidentally deal with other issues. But if a bill is primarily concerned with a different topic but incidentally refers to any of the enumerated matters in Article 110, the bill is not a money bill.
The 23rd edition of Erskine May’s classic Parliamentary Practice points out that even if the main object of a bill is to create a new charge on the Consolidated Fund or on money provided by Parliament, the bill will not be certified as a money bill if it is apparent that the primary purpose of the new charge is not purely financial. The book points out that the Family Allowances Bill, 1944-45, and the Reinsurance (Acts of Terrorism) Bill, 1992-93, will not be money bills even though they contained a charge on the Consolidated Fund of the UK.”
But the politically crafted preamble of the Aadhar Bill, 2016, has served the purpose for the ruling party to pass this law, and they’re doing the same for the bill relating to bankruptcy and insolvency. Because the BJP and its allies have much lesser numbers in the Rajya Sabha, which has virtually no practical say, except in an advisory capacity, the general apprehension is many other laws would be passed in this manner. Legislating in such a fashion violates the spirit of our constitution (as indeed do the disruptions by Congress and other opposition members, something the BJP also did while in opposition, but that’s another story), and Aadhar is just a part of the practice.
(Image Courtesy: Wikimedia Commons)