Article 110 of the Indian Constitution defines what a money bill is. It specifies only six subjects under the ambit of a money bill, and ‘any matter incidental to any of the matters specified’.
The qualification of the Aadhaar Bill to be a money bill has been questioned by the Opposition on multiple occasions. Since a money bill cannot amended by the Rajya Sabha (even though it may make suggestions) – and given the fact that BJP does not have majority in the Upper House – the Opposition believes that the ruling party has circumvented parliamentary procedures and tactfully muzzled its voice, through nomenclature.
The Aadhaar Act, 2016, defines itself as:
“An Act to provide for, as a good governance, efficient, transparent, and targeted delivery of subsidies, benefits and services, the expenditure for which is incurred from the Consolidated Fund of India, to individuals residing in India through assigning of unique identity numbers to such individuals and for matters connected therewith or incidental thereto.”
The Aadhaar Act, 2016, does not cover the six specific subjects mentioned in Article 110, considering the fact that it is purely a tool to ensure that individuals residing in India are assigned a unique identity number. The transfer of applicable benefits from the Consolidated Fund of India can only be done after this identity number has been provided to the individuals concerned.
Therefore, the Aadhaar Act does not deal with:
1. The imposition, abolition, remission, alteration or regulation of any tax
2. The regulation of the borrowing of money or the giving of any guarantee by the Government of India, or the amendment of the law with respect to any financial obligations undertaken or to be undertaken by the Government of India
3. The custody of the Consolidated Fund or the Contingency Fund of India, the payment of moneys into or the withdrawal of moneys from any such Fund
4. The appropriation of moneys out of the consolidated Fund of India
5. The declaring of any expenditure to be expenditure charged on the Consolidated Fund of India or the increasing of the amount of any such expenditure
6. The receipt of money on account of the Consolidated Fund of India or the public account of India or the custody or issue of such money or the audit of the accounts of the Union or of a State
7. Any matter incidental to any of the matters specified in sub clause (1) to (6)
On the other hand, a money bill deals specifically with the issues mentioned in points one to seven.
Aadhaar is merely a tool to protect the interests of recipients and to safeguard the leakage of funds from the Contingency Fund of India. It does not deal with the purpose or frequency of withdrawals. Moreover, the Act does not declare any specific expenditure or receipt that should be routed through the Consolidated Fund of India.
A consideration that Aadhaar will not be limited to transfer of funds/benefits only, over-reaches the limit prescribed by the final sub clause of Article 110 (1).
Clause (3) of Article 110 (1) says: “If any question arises whether a Bill is a Money Bill or not, the decision of the Speaker of the House of the People thereon shall be final”.
If the Aadhaar Bill actually does not fit into the subjects mentioned under Article 110 (1), the next obvious step is to question the decision of the Lok Sabha Speaker while classifying the Bill.
Is there scope for judicial intervention here?
As per Article 122 of the Indian Constitution: “The validity of any proceedings in Parliament shall not be called in question on the ground of any alleged irregularity of procedure.”
However, there have been multiple instances where the Supreme Court (SC) has stated that parliamentary procedures, including the actions of the Speaker, are not immune from judicial intervention. Moreover, it has also stated that procedural irregularities cannot be connived merely by Article 122.
Jairam Ramesh, Member of Parliament of Rajya Sabha for Karnataka, filed a writ petition (under Article 32), in April 2016, whereby he challenged the constitutionality of the Speaker’s decision to treat the Aadhaar Bill as a money bill.
However, attorney general Mukul Rohatgi stated that the Speaker’s actions cannot be challenged in the court. He also said that since Aadhaar will be used to transfer benefits from the Consolidated Fund of India, the bill should be considered as a money bill.
Amidst all this, in February 2017, the SC judicial bench, which included Chief Justice JS Khehar and Justice NV Ramana, observed merit in the petition and said, “Yes, we have identified the role and authority of the Speaker. But if the Speaker says blue is green, we will ask the Speaker to say it is blue… that we will set right.”
The final hearing on this issue is expected to happen in near future.
The continuing disquiet surrounding the Aadhaar-money bill controversy is related to constitutional propriety. The controversy has set a dangerous precedent – to scuttle proceedings in the Rajya Sabha and render it voiceless and mute.
The issue isn’t just limited to the treatment of the Aadhaar Bill. It brings to light the existing potential for undermining parliamentary procedures and design issues. If ruling parties make this a habit and (mis)use Article 110 recklessly, it can have far-reaching and dangerous implications. The very foundation of ‘doing things in good faith’ comes under the scanner, which will eventually dilute the role of Rajya Sabha in issues of national importance.
We will have to wait for the Supreme Court to (hopefully) validate the Opposition’s stance of terming this incident as an act of constitutional perfidy and blatant tact. Notwithstanding the final outcome, this is a relevant time to discuss constitutional procedures and powers. The voice of the Opposition needs to be heard and empowered – especially at a time when power is perilously concentrated in a few, and the sense of entitlement has overtaken the very spirit of democratic pluralism.
In the meantime, I leave you to ponder on a few questions: Why was the UPA’s National Identification Authority of India Bill, 2010, not considered to be a money bill? Did the then-Speaker not treat the Bill right, or has the current Speaker over-reached his authority? More importantly, what compelled BJP to call their own version of the 2010 Bill a money bill?