February 13, 2017 3:04:47 pm
Government today opposed in Supreme Court a petition moved by senior Congress leader Jairam Ramesh challenging the Lok Sabha Speaker’s decision to certify the bill on Aadhaar as a money bill on the ground that it covered all constitutional provisions to bring it under the ambit of money bill. Attorney General (AG) Mukul Rohatgi countered the arguments made by senior advocate P Chidambaram, who appeared for Ramesh, and said the Aadhaar bill was certified as money bill to avoid its scrutiny before the Rajya Sabha which does not have any say on a money bill. However, the AG said the Speaker’s decision cannot be challenged in the court and moreover the legislation covered all mandatory requirements under the Constitution to be certified as a money bill as all expenditure on social welfare programmes connected with Aadhaar will be withdrawn from the consolidated fund.
Pressing for the scrutiny of the Speaker’s decision to certify the Aadhaar Bill as Money Bill, Chidambaram said it is important to see what can be certified as money bill.
A bench, comprising Chief Justice J S Khehar and Justice N V Ramana, which heard the matter at some length, was of the view that the issue raised in the petition was serious.
However, it noted in agreement with the submission of AG that the issue involved was pertaining to the withdrawal of money from the consolidated fund.
The bench, asked Chidambaram to look into all objections raised by the AG and posted the matter after four weeks, saying it did not want to quickly take a call on the issue.
The Aadhaar (Targeted Delivery of Financial & Other Subsidies, Benefits & Services) Bill, 2016 was discussed and passed in the Lok Sabha on March 11 last year. It was then taken up in Rajya Sabha on March 16, where several amendments were made to it. The bill then returned the same evening to Lok Sabha which rejected all amendments proposed by the Upper House and passed it.
On May 10, 2016, the AG had opposed the petition filed by Ramesh saying constitutional provisions barred him from challenging it.
“Under the Constitution, it is a settled position that a money bill certified by the Speaker is beyond challenge,” the AG had said.
However, Chidambaram had then submitted that when there was a violation of rule of law, “locus is not the ground on which the petition can be thrown out.”
When the bench had asked “if it (treating Aadhaar Bill as Money Bill) is open to judicial review”, the AG had said there was no violation of fundamental right of Ramesh and hence the petition filed by him under Article 32 of the Constitution cannot be entertained.
Chidambaram had said Aadhaar Bill cannot be treated as Money Bill, so the petition has been filed under Article 32.
The senior Congress leader had informed the bench that the Bill had its passage in the Lok Sabha through a voice vote but the Rajya Sabha Chairman, before whom the complaint was made, had said he had no power to act on the Bill certified by the Lok Sabha Speaker.
The bench had noted his submission that it was a grave matter and needed proper hearing.
The apex court had on April 25, 2016 sought the assistance of the AG but did not issue notice on the plea of Ramesh.
Lok Sabha had on March 16 passed the Aadhaar bill that aimed at better targeting of subsidies through the Aadhaar unique identity.
The House had adopted the Aadhaar (Targeted Delivery of Financial and Other Subsidies, Benefits and Services) Bill, 2016, by a voice vote after rejecting recommendations for five amendments made by the Rajya Sabha.
Armed with the Speaker’s decision that it was a money bill, the government had pushed it in Rajya Sabha which cannot amend it but only make recommendations for amendment to LS.
Once Lok Sabha passes a money bill with or without amendments recommended by Rajya Sabha, it is deemed to have been passed by both the Houses.
Showing urgency in getting the law through, the Centre had brought the measure to the Lower House on the same day, within an hour of being returned by Rajya Sabha.
Finance Minister Arun Jaitley, who had moved the bill and piloted it in both the Houses, had also turned down the Opposition’s argument that Parliament cannot legislate since the matter is before the Supreme Court.
Ramesh, while proposing amendments in the bill in Rajya Sabha, had expressed “anguish” that it was brought as a money bill, an act he likened to “knocking a nail in the coffin of the Upper House”.
Calling the passage of the bill in this manner “a very dangerous trend”, Ramesh had said the government has tried to “bypass” Rajya Sabha by doing this.
Insisting that a series of conditions are specified in Article 110 of the Constitution and that the Article used the word “only” if those conditions are prevalent can a bill be declared a money bill, he had said that the Aadhaar bill, which was passed as a money bill, had “ignored five recommendations made by the Rajya Sabha.
“It had many other provisions and most constitutional experts have given the view that the Aadhaar bill is not a money bill. While the prerogative of declaring a bill as a money bill or not is that of the Speaker and the Speaker’s decision is final, the recommendation to the Speaker to consider making it a money bill is that of the government.
“It is the government that decides whether it is a money bill or not and the Speaker only certifies it as money bill,” Ramesh had said.
Moving amendments in the Upper House during consideration of the bill, the former Union Minister had argued that every individual should have the freedom to opt out of Aadhaar and said the present bill does not give that space.
Stating that he himself does not have an Aadhaar card, Ramesh had said a situation may arise when it may be needed even to book a flight or get a phone number.
He had opposed a provision in the bill terming it as “broad” and “amorphous” and could become the ground for misuse of the law as it gives “sweeping powers” on the grounds of national security.
He had suggested that rather than national security, the terms “public emergency” or “public safety” could be used. He had said that an independent member like the CVC should be included in the panel that decides which information regarding a person can be shared.
Ramesh had said any suo motu powers, “even to collect information”, should not be given to the Aadhaar authority and gave an instance that it could even direct collection of DNA.
He had said there were concerns of privacy and the amendments moved by him were in line with the recommendation of a Commission headed by Justice (retd) A P Shah, which had been set by the Planning Commission to examine the matter.
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