The government has overruled the opinion of its top law officer that the Nandan Nilekani-led Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) should be able to “execute powers independently” of Parliament, and asked the authority to draft a new bill in consonance with the views of a parliamentary committee.
There has been a lot of debate on the UIDAI’s authority to collect citizens’ biometric information for the issuance of a unique identity (Aadhaar) number without legislative backing, considering that issues such as security of data and privacy of individuals were involved.
Attorney general GE Vahanvati had told the government that there was nothing in the law against the UIDAI functioning as an executive authority. “The power of the executive is clear and there is no question of circumventing Parliament, or the executive becoming a substitute of Parliament,” he had said.
A parliamentary standing committee, on the other hand, had observed that the UIDAI’s executive powers were “unethical” and “violative” of the Parliament’s prerogative, asking the government to bring a new bill before the Parliament to define the body’s powers, functions and responsibilities. It had also pointed out several deficiencies in the functioning of the authority.
Taking the panel’s views seriously, the government asked the UIDAI to draft a new bill. “The bill has been sent back to the drawing board,” a senior government official said, adding that the government wants more clarity on its “objects and reasons”.
The UIDAI’s latest draft bill did not clarify why Aadhaar was required when the home ministry’s National Population Register (NPR) was mandated under the law to collect biometric details of citizens. The fact that the NPR had the legal mandate to collect biometric information was the main reason for the parliamentary standing committee opposing the UPA government’s development initiative – aimed at plugging government subsidies in welfare programmes.
Sources said the proposed bill had also failed to deal with issues related to security of data, privacy of individuals, and the purpose of the information. The government has also reportedly rejected the UIDAI’s rejoinder to the standing committee report, and told it to incorporate “all possible” suggestions made by it.