The government promotes the Aadhaar programme because it believes the 12-digit unique identification number will let them track every penny spent from the exchequer. But money is not all that the Aadhaar number can track.
It can help track people too with amazing efficiency.
This is at the centre of the controversy around the programme, and the Aadhaar bill that requires every resident to get the number to access government subsidies and services.
Finance minister Arun Jaitley put up a spirited defence of the bill in the Rajya Sabha on Wednesday when the Aadhaar (Targeted Delivery of Financial and Other Subsidies, Benefits and Services) Bill, 2016 came up for passage.
And he was right.
Read more: Aadhaar now a reality: All you need to know about the bill
As far as privacy is concerned, the NDA government’s version is much more stringent than the creaky draft proposed by the UPA in 2010.
Jaitley said there were only two circumstances in which personal data collected by UIDAI could be shared under this bill.
One, if the Aadhaar number holder consents to his details being shared. Second, if a government agency wants to access this data on grounds of national security.
But the debate around privacy concerns – that neither the NDA nor the UPA governments addressed – and the new bill is much more fundamental.
The Aadhaar bill gives the executive too much power to decide how to administer the law.
Every law requires the government to frame rules to specify the nitty-gritty of its implementation.
But the Aadhaar bill passed by Parliament gives the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) the power to prescribe regulations for nearly every provision, right down to what biometric or biological attributes need to be captured.
“The law leaves too much power in the hands of the executive,” said Sunil Abraham, executive director of the Bengaluru-headquartered research advocacy group, Centre for Internet and Society.
For instance, the bill gives the Unique identification Authority of India (UIDAI) powers to determine if it should collect any biological attribute of people too. This means the government could at a later date mandate that DNA of all Aadhaar numbers too be collected.
The example echoed in the Rajya Sabha on Wednesday as well.
“No power should be delegated to the UID Authority because then the UID Authority will decide tomorrow that DNA is required, and they will then have the powers to take DNA information as well,” Congress MP Jairam Ramesh said.
The minister tried to explain the reliance on regulations issued by UIDAI – the word ‘regulations’ does appear some 50 times through the legislation – as compared to less than 10 in, say, the right to information law or the 2010 version of the bill.
He said MPs could still review notifications issued by UIDAI when they are placed for parliamentary approval.