This legal backing for the Aadhaar initiative might also improve the government’s chances of getting a favourable order from the Supreme Court, which had recently ruled that the unique identity number can’t be made mandatory for availing government benefits. One of the arguments against the use of Aadhaar was that it had been functioning so far on executive order. The court is expected to give a final order on the matter on October 22.
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The Bill cleared by the Cabinet is a “slightly modified” version of the earlier one, sent back by Parliament’s standing committee on finance, a panel chaired by Bharatiya Janata Party leader Yashwant Sinha. “Most of the concerns expressed by the committee have been taken care of or are not valid,” said a top government official, requesting anonymity as the government did not make a formal announcement about the decision.
The new Bill is expected be tabled during the winter session of Parliament.
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Some of the concerns raised by the parliamentary panel included the fact that UID does not give proof of citizenship and is for all residents, along with issues regarding the cost of the project and privacy of personal data.
The panel had also highlighted the issue that the scheme was voluntary but its linkage with government welfare schemes would make it mandatory.
“It has been reaffirmed that the UID number is clearly for all residents of India and the actual amount spent on the project so far is Rs 3,490 crore against the perception that the project entails some unreasonable expenditure,” said another government official. The fact that 440 million numbers have been generated so far rubbishes the fact that UIDAI’s technology is not proven, the official added.
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However, it is still not clear what changes the government has made to the Bill and why it took almost two years for it to move the legislation again before the Cabinet.
The proposed legislation seeks to create a National Identification Authority of India, which will oversee the implementation of the Aadhaar project and “regulate it”. It also seeks to define the penalties in case of misuse of the data collected under the UID project.
These cover impersonation using Aadhaar data; unauthorised collection or dissemination of information, and unauthorized access to the central database, which will contain all individual details such as biometrics collected for Aadhaar. The Bill allows disclosure of personal information in case of national security; however, it forbids UIDAI officials to disclose any information stored in the database in general.