The regional passport office in Mumbai issued a press note that makes DigiLocker mandatory if the applicant submits an Aadhaar as proof of residential address or date of birth.
"From 5 August 2023, in case applicants choose to submit Aadhaar as proof of present residential address or date of birth, it is mandatory that applicants select the DigiLocker option at the time of filing up the online application. In case applicants do not exercise the option of DigiLocker for Aadhaar at the time of online submission of the passport application, Aadhaar shall not be accepted as a valid document for proof of present address or date of birth at passport seva kendra (PSK) or post office passport seva kendras (POPSKs)," it says.
The press note tries to amplify the 'convenience' of using voluntarily mandatory Aadhaar and, thus, DigiLocker. Interestingly, while you can open a DigiLocker account using a mobile number, everything here is linked with Aadhaar. Even the mobile number you use to register and receive a one-time passcode (OTP) must be the same as that you had linked with your Aadhaar. And if you want to make any changes in your DigiLocker account, like updating your mobile number or full name, you need first to update the data in your Aadhaar.
Earlier, without paying any heed to the Supreme Court's judgement, the Union government and everyone is trying to make voluntary Aadhaar mandatory for everything. Now, under the pretext of convenience, even the passport office appears to enforce DigiLocker on citizens.
The UIDAI has requested the state governments to emphasise the need for verification before usage and has urged the states to give necessary direction so that whenever Aadhaar is submitted as proof of identity, authentication/ verification of the resident is performed by the concerned entity using Aadhaar as an identity document.
So, it is not clear if the passport office will verify Aadhaar submitted by applicants on its own or if it is trying to shift the responsibility to DigiLocker, which is an initiative of the ministry of electronics & IT (MeitY) under the Digital India programme. It is a cloud-based platform for storage, sharing and verification of documents and certificates.
In her budget speech in February 2023, finance minister (FM) Nirmala Sitharaman had announced a "one-stop solution for reconciliation and updating of identity and address of individuals maintained by various government agencies, regulators and regulated entities will be established using DigiLocker service and Aadhaar as foundational identity."
Maybe the passport office is trying to toe the line and asking for exercising the DigiLocker option for every applicant submitting an Aadhaar as address proof or date of birth.
The only issue is UIDAI has provided an Aadhaar number to anyone who is a resident of India. Still, it has no idea about the genuineness of documents submitted by Aadhaar-holders to obtain the 12-digit number.
In response to a right to information (RTI) query in 2018, UIDAI admitted that it does not certify the identity, address, date of birth, resident status or existence of any individual or any 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. This has damning repercussions for the genuineness of the entire Aadhaar database. In a previous RTI, the UIDAI had admitted that the Aadhaar database or the processes of reduplication had never been subject to verification or audit. Now, an admission 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. The RTI replies call to question the very basis of using the Aadhaar to identify anyone, to use it to establish age, resident status, address or even the existence of a person. It calls to question the use of Aadhaar in governance and financial systems. (Read: Unique ID is not Unique, does not certify anything, says UIDAI
No wonder, last year, even the comptroller and auditor general (CAG) pointed out several issues like faulty biometrics and unpaired documents in the UIDAI database.
In its performance audit report, the CAG says, "All Aadhaar numbers were not paired with the documents relating to personal information of their holders, and even after nearly ten years, the UIDAI could not identify the exact extent of mismatch. Though with the introduction of inline scanning in July 2016, the personal information documents were stored in the central identities data repository (CIDR), the existence of unpaired biometric data of earlier period indicated deficient data management."
The auditor-general also expressed doubt about the collection of documents from residents and their management. It says, "All the Aadhaar numbers stored in the UIDAI database were not supported with documents on the demographic information of the resident, causing doubts about the correctness and completeness of resident's data collected and stored by UIDAI before 2016." (Read: Aadhaar Database Continues To Have Faulty Biometrics, Unpaired Documents: CAG