With Notices to 'Illegal Immigrants', UIDAI Raises Two Key Questions

Not only are there questions over the Aadhaar agency’s own vetting process, the UIDAI also appears to have entered the citizenship debate.

New Delhi: Over 120 people in Hyderabad have received notices from the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI), asking them to prove that they are not illegal immigrants and have obtained their Aadhaar numbers through legitimate identity documents.

Although the UIDAI has insisted in a separate statement that the notices “have nothing to do with citizenship”, two examples that have entered the public domain appear to ask the person  to “prove all your claims of citizenship”.

One of the notices reportedly sent to a Mohammed Sattar, who is a resident of Talab Katta in the Old City area, states that the UIDAI received a complaint alleging that he “obtained Aadhar through false pretences” and was not an “Indian national”.

The notice said: “Whereas this Office has received a complaint/allegation that you are not an Indian National and you have obtained Aadhaar through false pretences, making false claims and submitting false documents. An enquiry has been ordered by the Regional office, UIDAI, Hyderabad, to ascertain the veracity of the complaint/allegation.”

In a statement put out on Monday night, the UIDAI admitted that it had received reports from state police that 127 local residents obtained Aadhaar numbers under “false pretences” and that the a preliminary enquiry by law enforcement had found that they were “illegal immigrants”.

“As per the Aadhaar Act, such Aadhaar numbers are liable to be cancelled. Therefore, the RO Hyderabad has sent notices to them to appear in person and to substantiate their claims for getting an Aadhaar number,” the UIDAI statement noted.

“After their replies are received & examined; if it is found and proved that if any of them has obtained Aadhaar by submitting false documents or through false pretences, then their Aadhaar is liable to be cancelled or suspended depending on the severity of the transgression,” it added.

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While the UIDAI insists that it is not in the business of verifying a person’s citizenship, its statement is quick to add that the Supreme Court has directed that illegal immigrants cannot receive an Aadhaar number.

In November 2018, the-then UIDAI CEO A.B. Pandey noted that the agency was putting together a mechanism that would facilitate the cancellation of Aadhaar cards obtained by Rohingya migrants.

“We can not only cancel Aadhaar but also ensure through the offenders’ biometric data that they never apply for it again, preventing their re-entry into the system,” Pandey said at the time.

The UIDAI’s notices to Hyderabad residents therefore raise two key questions.

Firstly, the complaints forwarded by the state police raise questions over the Aadhaar agency’s own vetting process. As The Wire exclusively reported in June 2018, the UIDAI’s internal estimates at the time indicated that it did not have access to identification documents (proof of identity, proof of address) for up to 38% of total Aadhaar enrolments. Put simply, for nearly 1 out of every 4 Aadhaar numbers, the UIDAI did not have access to the underlying documentation that was furnished. The problem in Hyderabad perhaps stems from this issue. With this new crackdown, it is worth asking: how secure is the UIDAI’s  process for issuing Aadhaar numbers?

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Secondly, the UIDAI appears to have entered the citizenship debate whether it likes it or not. The notices that have been sent out reportedly ask the alleged illegal immigrants to show that they have entered the territory of India legally. This makes little sense. If the UIDAI is only concerned that forged or false documents  – such as a fake driver’s licence, bank statement or PAN card –  were used to obtain an Aadhaar number, why do the notices bother asking if the people can prove they entered India legally? Will it now assume a law enforcement role and start verifying the authenticity of visas that have been given to non-Indian citizens who are nonetheless eligible for an Aadhaar number if they have resided here for more than six months?

Finally, if the Hyderabad police has genuine reason to suspect that these people are illegal immigrants, then surely any verification by the UIDAI is the not the most important or urgent legal process that must be carried out. If the 127 residents of Hyderabad are deemed to have entered the country illegally, the appropriate authorities should take action as per relevant immigration law. All the UIDAI has to do then is simply revoke their Aadhaar numbers once the matter has been settled beyond any doubt.

“So with what authority is UIDAI asking people to prove their citizenship?” asked Muzafarullah Khan Shafaat, a lawyer representing the three who have been summoned. “As per the Aadhaar rules, if UIDAI finds that someone has fraudulently acquired Aadhar, they are supposed to deactivate the number and ask for proof of original documents, not for proof of citizenship.”