Why Passing NMC Bill as Money Bill Is A Fraud on the Constitution
Another bill, which has very little to do with spending money from the Consolidated Fund of India, is being passed off as a money bill. This time, it is the National Medical Commission Bill, 2017.
The bill, which entirely centralizes medical education in India, is looking to replace the Medical Council of India with the NMC, in so far as medical education is concerned. It also seeks to enshrine the National Eligibility-cum-Entrance Test and Examination (NEET) into law, taking medical education almost entirely out of the hands of state governments.
This has evoked a furious response from doctors and states, notably from southern states which have invested heavily in medical education, fearing that the institutions will be swamped with applicants from the rest of the country.
Why Should Rajya Sabha Not Have a Say On this Bill?
The merits of the bill aside, this is not a bill which is concerned only with the spending of money from the Consolidated Fund of India. As of the Constitution of India makes it clear, a bill which has only provisions relating to spending of money, et al can be considered a money bill, and thus won’t require passage in the Rajya Sabha.
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The bill itself makes an anodyne reference to the one clause which mandates the funding of the NMC through a National Medical Commission Fund, though there is nothing to suggest that this is so fundamental and basic to this bill that it would be meaningless to pass this law without it. Consider for instance, that no such provision exists for any of the major regulators such as SEBI, TRAI, et al, suggesting that it is by no means a sine qua non for such a body.
SC’s Aadhaar Verdict’s Role
This dubious move has been aided and abetted by the Supreme Court’s messy and poorly reasoned judgment in the Aadhaar case, . The majority judgment penned by Justice A K Sikri and the concurring judgment of Justice Ashok Bhushan, both hold that while constitutional courts can judicially review whether a law was validly designated a “money bill” by the Speaker, they do not actually lay down any principles on how to distinguish between money bills and non-money bills.
At best, the judgment can be held to say that a law which provides for subsidies and benefits in a manner such as the Aadhaar Act can be validly considered a “money bill”. The judgment does not tell us whether any bill with a perfunctory clause relating to funding can be treated as a “money bill”, or whether there is supposed to be something more.
‘Selective Reading’ of SC Verdicts
Only Justice DY Chandrachud’s minority judgment manages to get to the crux of the issue – that the word “only” in Article 110 of the Constitution must be given full meaning, and therefore, a bill which has some provisions relating to spending and collecting revenues cannot be considered a “money bill”. His reasoning is clear and incontrovertible – any other interpretation would amount to a deletion of the word “only” in Article 110. As he correctly puts it, attempting to bypass the Rajya Sabha in matters all and sundry amounts to a “fraud on the Constitution”.
Even the amendments being proposed to the Aadhaar Act to bring it in conformity with the judgment do not address all the aspects that the Supreme Court found constitutionally objectionable, and will probably require a second round of litigation to address.
SC Must Shoulder Blame Too
Part of the blame for this must lie with the Supreme Court. Having spent so much time and effort in hearing the Aadhaar case, the least that was expected was a judgment that would clearly lay down the law on the interpretation of the Constitution.
However, that was belied by the majority judgment which has shown to be, on multiple readings, incomplete, contradictory and confusing. What it has done is also permitted the government to allow such further frauds on the Constitution, such as passing the NMC Bill as a money bill.
(Alok Prasanna Kumar is an advocate based in Bengaluru. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)