In a bizarre incident, the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) has sent a notice to a resident from Hyderabad questioning the Aadhaar-holder's credentials and citizenship. But based on its own responses under the Right to Information Act (RTI), UIDAI said that it does not keep a record of documents submitted, or even acknowledge or certify them. So how can it determine nationality?
In a notice on 3 February 2020, Amita Bindroo, deputy director and inquiry officer at UIDAI's Hyderabad regional office states, "...the 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/ allegations."
"Failure to appear in person/produce the documents in original to substantiate your claims will be construed that you have no defense against the said complaint/ allegation and the matter shall be decided suo moto. Accordingly the Aadhaar no.xxxx-xxxx-xxxx will be deactivated in terms of rule 29 of the Aadhaar (enrolment and update) regulations, 2016," the notice says.
It is not clear what kind of complaint or details received by the UIDAI would trigger such an inquiry and investigation. Will it act on every complaint? And, can complaints to UIDAI be a chilling new route to target and harass people, by getting it to send show-cause notices? How many such notices have been sent out by UIDAI so far?
It is important to remember that Aadhaar has become mandatory for innumerable services and benefits and cancellation of Aadhaar would virtually lead to the civil death or at least serious disadvantage to weaker economic sections.
Rule 29 of the Aadhaar (enrolment and update) regulations, 2016, states...
Inquiry into cases requiring omission or deactivation. —
(1) Any case reported or identified as a possible case requiring omission or deactivation may require field inquiry which may include hearing the persons whose Aadhaar number is sought to be omitted or deactivated.
(2) An agency nominated by the Authority shall examine/inquire and submit a report to the Authority as per the procedures as may be specified by the Authority for this purpose.
(3) The Authority may initiate necessary action upon receiving the report and the decision to omit or deactivate an Aadhaar number shall lie with the Authority.
The rule makes no mention of nationality of the Aadhaar-holder. In fact, UIDAI itself has repeatedly stated that Aadhaar is voluntary for residents in India and has not insisted on citizenship.
What is more shocking is UIDAI does not have any documents stored or verified while allotting an Aadhaar number. The UIDAI has no idea about the identification documents used to assign an Aadhaar number to enrolment packets submitted by the enrolment agencies.
In May 2018, during the Aadhaar hearing, senior counsel Shyam Divan pointed out before the Supreme Court (SC) that Aadhaar is essentially a self-certification-based identity and nobody from the government has ever verified it, as admitted by UIDAI in writing.
"No official from the UIDAI verifies anything at the stage of enrolment. UIDAI also takes no responsibility for correct identification of a person. The ID number is being issued without verification by UIDAI. They do not even know whether the documents presented to the enrollers are genuine or false. And they take no responsibility for it," he had said.
While UIDAI does not verify age or date of birth, Aadhaar does not identify a person, it only matches, Mr Divan said, adding, "We asked them to confirm that at the time of enrolment, there is no verification that the person is not an illegal immigrant. This question was asked because there was a 23 September 2013 order of the Court, specifically stating that Aadhaar should not be given to illegal immigrants. They were very quick to issue circulars for linking, but did they issue any circular on this?" (Read: UIDAI admits #Aadhaar is essentially a self-certification based identity issued without any verification
In an RTI reply, UIDAI had admitted that even the data about the documents submitted for enrolment are not known to the UIDAI. Private agencies were paid for each enrolment packet they submitted. Private agencies also benefit by being able to use ghost identities that they may have created to claim subsidies, park black money, do benami
transactions, and launder money. (Read: Unique ID is not Unique, does not certify anything, says UIDAI)
As repeatedly pointed out by Dr Anupam Saraph, an expert in governance of complex systems, in order to identify a person using an official document (like the passport, driver’s licence or election ID), the official document has to acknowledge or certify that the data captured on the official document is genuine and belongs to the person who it claims to belong.
"The UIDAI does not take any responsibility of identification. It is not co-present with the person being identified. It does not and cannot confirm whether a real person was present and not their photographic, video-graphic or biometric data,” Dr Saraph says.
Senior advocate Mr Divan had also pointed out several lacunae in UIDAI's enrolment procedure.
“Briefly, the entire process at the field level is in the hands of private enterprises known as enrollers who operate freely without any government supervision. The threshold qualifications for an enrolment agency are so low that not one of them is a recognisable name. They comprise an assortment of trusts, societies, proprietary concerns, partnerships and what have you. The biometric information of each enrolee – that set of valuable parameters that we ought to most fiercely guard—is spirited out by filling out a form," Mr Divan had said. (“The Prime Minister’s Fingerprints: Aadhaar and the Garrotting of Civil Liberties
Commenting on the UIDAI notice, lawyer Gautam Bhatia says, “The UIDAI is not empowered to rule on ‘claims to citizenship’, which is the substantive point.”
So, the basic question is when the UIDAI does not know which documents were submitted by the Aadhaar-holder or checked or verified by the enrolment agency, how it is going to check the veracity of the complaint or allegations it had received to initiate the inquiry?