Recently, a non-resident Indian (NRI) woman from the US came to Mumbai for a week just to get the Aadhaar number. Even though she is not eligible for it or is not required to have one, she preferred to fake her residential status credentials (for obtaining Aadhaar), instead of facing difficulties in several issues. This includes dealing with property leasing or sales, pension in India, filing income tax (I-T) returns, linking Aadhaar to permanent account number (PAN), mobile sim verification, financial investments, insurance and endless other things.
While the government and the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) try to tell us that Aadhaar is meant only for residents and NRIs are not required to have it, the ill-planned rollout of the project and immense state pressure on all service providers to get everybody on board the Aadhaar database has meant that organisations dealing with people on the ground are unthinkingly pestering customers for submitting Aadhaar number to avail these services. It seems everything in your life needs to be linked to the notorious number. Many NRIs are specially coming to India to get Aadhaar or they try to get it when they come for vacation. The smart NRIs got it long time before they were stopped from obtaining one by the law.
The issue here is that the ground reality is out of sync with the Aadhaar rules. Even LIC is asking for Aadhaar number while accepting online premium payment. Making health insurance claim or policy renewal needs Aadhaar. Even for obtaining a mobile SIM, sales agents keep insisting on Aadhaar as valid know-you-customer (KYC) document and promise to activate it once the customer does a verification from their devices. Schools that follow the Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE) ask for Aadhaar of students. NRIs may renew their existing Indian driving licence, but with authorities from certain states, insisting on Aadhaar, they could face an issue. If NRIs do not need Aadhaar number, then how do service providers Authorities ascertain the NRI status to determine if this requirement can be waived for availing their services?
For example, Department of Telecommunications (DoT) has directed telecom companies to make the verification process seamless especially for senior citizens, physically challenged people, NRIs, and expats. Does it really work in practice? Is it easy for NRI to do SIM verification without Aadhaar? Is it possible that resident Indian not having Aadhaar may declare their status as NRI to complete verification process?
At a bank, this writer noticed that a couple was trying to link their Aadhaar to bank account, but the bank employee was not sure if their status was NRI or not. The employee was trying to figure out how many days the couple has stayed in India by looking at their passport. A colleague warned the bank employee not to link their Aadhaar to the account as it could be a very serious breach. Does it mean the bank employee now had additional responsibility to determine NRI status of customer? As such there are two definitions of NRIs (I-T department and FEMA) and now Aadhaar Act has its own definition of NRI.
Aadhaar Act, 2016, Section 2(v) of the Aadhaar Act defines “resident” as an individual who has resided in India for a period or periods amounting in all to one hundred and eighty-two days or more in the twelve months immediately preceding the date of application for enrolment.”
UIDAI has clarified in its circular dated 15 November 2017 that NRIs and overseas citizenship of India (OCIs) may not be eligible to obtain Aadhaar as per the Aadhaar Act. UIDAI CEO Dr Ajay Bhushan Pandey has warned that taking Aadhaar through illegitimate means could be considered as a violation of the law and that it could land such NRIs in trouble. But, an NRI person may have Aadhaar card as he/she could have got it when their status was resident Indian and that Aadhaar is lifelong. How does UIDAI really determine who obtained the Aadhaar legitimately and who got it when they were non-resident, especially considering there are three definitions to determine NRI status?
The Indian Government has made it loud and clear that the Aadhaar is mandatory to be linked with a host of essential services. Authorised personnel may insist on Aadhaar stating that they have no intimation from authorities exempting NRIs from giving Aadhaar for availing services. So, with numerous issues faced by NRIs, UIDAI is coming out with clarifications. Even Haryana state government has directed administrative secretaries and district commissioners (DCs) to ensure that NRIs are not ‘harassed’ for producing Aadhaar as identity document for availing themselves of at least 16 services from the authorities concerned.
Meanwhile, the circus of Aadhaar and issues faced by NRIs continue, even resident Indians suffer due to the coercive Aadhaar linking.