What exactly is a money bill?

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The Supreme Court will begin
hearing inal arguments next
month on a writ petition challenging
the validity of the Aadhaar
(Targeted Delivery of Financial &
Other Subsidies, Beneits & Services)
Act, 2016 — or the Aadhaar
Act. The proceeding, initiated by
Jairam Ramesh, a Member of Parliament
in the Rajya Sabha, primarily
questions the legality behind
the Union government’s move in
introducing the Aadhaar Act as a
money bill. Through this categorisation,
the government had the
law enacted by securing a simple
majority in the Lok Sabha while
rendering redundant any opposition
to the legislation in the Upper
House of Parliament.

What is a money bill

   Imperils liberties 

During preliminary hearings, the
Supreme Court has suggested that
it isn’t entirely convinced of the
merits of Mr. Ramesh’s petition.
But a closer examination will only
show that the introduction of the
Aadhaar Act as a money bill contravenes
the bare text of the Constitution.
In this case, the breach is particularly
disturbing, because the
legislation imperils our core liberties,
in manners both explicit and
insidious
Originally, Aadhaar was conceived
as a scheme to provide to
every Indian a unique identity
number, with a purported view to
enabling a fair and equitable distribution
of beneits and subsidies.
There is little doubt that the
scheme’s introduction, with no
prior legislative backing, was a lagrant
wrong, and was completely
unjustiiable as a measure of democratic
governance. For this Mr.
Ramesh’s party, the Congress,
must take full responsibility. But,
when a draft of a statute was eventually
introduced in the Rajya
Sabha, in December 2010, it was
done so as an ordinary bill. This meant that both Houses of Parliament
had to provide their imprimatur
to the bill for it to become law.

 Nonetheless this draft legislation
contained serious misgivings,
so much so that a parliamentary
standing committee released a detailed
report difering with the government
of the time over critical
aspects of the bill, particularly its
treatment of concerns over privacy
and protection of data security. In
the meantime, given that the
Aadhaar project was being implemented
even without statutory
support, public interest petitions
were iled in the Supreme Court
challenging the project’s legitimacy.
In these cases, the court issued
a series of interim orders prohibiting
the state from making Aadhaar
mandatory, while permitting its
use only for a set of limited governmental
schemes.
  In March 2016, the Union government
withdrew the earlier bill,
and introduced, in its place, as a
money bill, a new draft legislation,
titled the Aadhaar (Targeted Delivery
of Financial & Other Subsidies,
Beneits & Services) Bill, 2016. This
categorisation was extraordinary
because a money bill, under India’s
constitutional design, requires
only the Lok Sabha’s airmation
for it to turn into law. Right on cue,
within days of the bill’s introduction,
the Lower House, in complete
disregard of the Rajya Sabha’s protestations,
passed the legislation, as
Act No. 18 of 2016. This law, Mr.
Ramesh now argues, is patently illegal,
because its classiication as a
money bill infringes the Constitution’s
mandates
  A money bill is deined by Article
110 of the Constitution, as a
draft law that contains only provisions
that deal with all or any of the
matters listed therein. These comprise
a set of seven features,
broadly including items such as the
imposition or regulation of a tax;
the regulation of the borrowing of
money by the Government of India;
the withdrawal of money from
the Consolidated Fund of India;
and so forth. In the event a proposed
legislation contains other
features, ones that are not merely
incidental to the items speciically
outlined, such a draft law cannot
be classiied as a money bill. Article
110 further clariies that in cases
where a dispute arises over
whether a bill is a money bill or
not, the Lok Sabha Speaker’s decision
on the issue shall be considered
inal.

  Flawed counterpoint 

The government’s response to Mr.
Ramesh’s claim is predicated on
two prongs: that the Speaker’s decision
to classify a draft legislation
as a money bill is immune from judicial
review, and that, in any
event, the Aadhaar Bill fulilled all
the constitutional requirements of
a money bill. A careful examination
of these arguments will, however,
show us that the government
is wrong on both counts.
             To be fair, the assertion that the
Speaker’s decision is beyond judicial
review inds support in the Supreme
Court’s judgment in Mohd.
Saeed Siddiqui v. State of UP (2014).
Here, a three-judge bench had
ruled, in the context of State legislatures,
that a Speaker’s decision to
classify a draft statute as a money
bill, was not judicially reviewable,
even if the classiication was incorrect.
This is because the error in
question, the court ruled, constituted
nothing more than a mere
procedural irregularity.
But there are signiicant problems
with this view. Chief among
them is the wording of Article 110,
which vests no unbridled discretion
in the Speaker. The provision
requires that a bill conform to the
criteria prescribed in it for it to be
classiied as a money bill. Where a
bill intends to legislate on matters
beyond the features delineated in
Article 110, it must be treated as an
ordinary draft statute. Any violation
of this mandate has to be seen,
therefore, as a substantive constitutional
error, something which
Siddiqui fails to do.
                  There are other laws too in the
judgment. Most notably, it brushes
aside the verdict of a Constitution
Bench in Raja Ram Pal v. Hon’ble
Speaker, Lok Sabha (2007), where
the court had ruled that clauses
that attach inality to a determination
of an issue do not altogether
oust the court’s jurisdiction. That
is, the bench held, there are numerous
circumstances where the
court can review parliamentary
pronouncements. These would include
instances where a Speaker’s
choice is grossly illegal, or disregards
basic constitutional mandates,
or, worse still, where the
Speaker’s decision is riddled with
perversities, or is arrived at
through dishonest intentions.

What Aadhaar Act shows

 A simple reading of the Aadhaar
Act would show us that its contents
go far beyond the features enumerated
in Article 110. If anything, it is
the provisions in the legislation
that pertain to the Consolidated
Fund and its use that are incidental
to the Act’s core purpose — which,
quite evidently, is to ensure,
among other things, the creation of
a framework for maintaining a
central database of biometric information
collected from citizens.
Ordinarily, a draft legislation is
classiied as a money bill when it
provides for funds to be made
available to the executive to carry
out speciic tasks. In the case of the
Aadhaar Act, such provisions are
manifestly absent. The Speaker’s
decision to conirm the government’s
classiication is, therefore,
an error that is not merely procedural
in nature but one that constitutes,
in substance, an unmitigated
louting of Article 110.
In many ways, Aadhaar has
brought out to plain sight the worryingly
totalitarian impulses of our
state. The government has argued,
with some force, that Indian citizens
possess no fundamental right
to privacy. This argument, however,
is predicated on judgments of
the Supreme Court that have little
contemporary relevance, and that
have, in any event, been overlooked
in several subsequent cases
where the court has clariied the
extent of the liberties that the Constitution
guarantees.

Right to privacy 

        Privacy is important not merely because
it advances the cause of
equality and freedom but also because
it is, in and of itself, a treasurable
value. A failure to protect privacy
adequately can have
disastrous consequences that affect
our abilities to determine for
ourselves how we want to live our
lives. And the Aadhaar Act hits at
the core of this value. It permits the
creation of a database of not only
biometric information but also
various other private data, without
so much as bothering about safeguards
that need to be installed to
ensure their security.
        We scarcely
need to stretch our imaginations to
wonder what the government —
and other agencies to which this information
can be shared without
any regulatory checks — can do
with all this material.
That a statute so pernicious in its
breadth can be enacted after being
introduced as a money bill only
makes matters worse. It has the effect
of negating altogether the Rajya
Sabha’s legislative role, making,
in the process, a mockery of our
democracy. It is imperative, therefore,
that the court refers the
present controversy to a larger
bench, with a view to overruling
Siddiqui.

Suhrith Parthasarathy is an advocate
practising at the Madras High Court
Source: The Hindu.

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