Hyderabad: The Unique Identification Authority of India faced public wrath after it came to light that three Hyderabad residents from the minority community were "asked to prove their citizenship", prompting the Aadhaar issuing authority to issue a clarification.
According to the notices dated February 3, the individuals were summoned after UIDAI's regional office received "a complaint/allegation" that they were not Indian nationals and had obtained Aadhaar through "false pretences" and by submitting fake documents.
Clarifying on the issue on Tuesday, the Aadhaar issuing authority revealed that its Hyderabad office had sent notices to not just three but 127 residents, asserting that these had nothing to do with citizenship.
"Aadhaar is not a document of citizenship and UIDAI has been mandated under the Aadhaar Act to ascertain residency of a person in India for 182 days prior to applying for Aadhaar," the nodal body, which issues the 12-digit biometric ID, said in a statement.
The Supreme Court, in its landmark decision, has directed the UIDAI not to issue Aadhaar to illegal immigrants, it said.
"It may be noted that the regional office Hyderabad received reports from the state police that 127 people have obtained Aadhaar on false pretences, as in their preliminary enquiry they were found illegal immigrants who were not qualified to obtain an Aadhaar number," the UIDAI said.
As per the Aadhaar Act, such Aadhaar numbers are liable to be cancelled. "Therefore, the regional office Hyderabad has sent notices to them to appear in person and to substantiate their claims for getting an Aadhaar number," it said.
The UIDAI emphasised that these notices have "nothing to do with citizenship and cancellation of Aadhaar number is in no way related to the nationality of any resident".
In case it is found and proved that any of them obtained Aadhaar by submitting false documents or through false pretences, their Aadhaar is liable to be cancelled or suspended depending on the severity of the transgression, UIDAI said.
"Severe errors like forged documents, etc., will lead to appropriate actions, including suspending /cancelling the Aadhaar," it cautioned.
"Sometimes it becomes necessary to cancel the Aadhaar number when it is found that a resident has obtained it by submitting false biometrics or documents. It is a routine quality improvement process that the UIDAI takes up regularly," the authority said.
The 127 people have been asked to appear before the UIDAI deputy director in Hyderabad for a personal hearing on February 20. Additional time has been given to allow them to collect the requisite documents.
"Since it may take them some more time to collect their original documents that they had submitted for obtaining Aadhaar, as informed by the state police, the UIDAI has postponed the personal hearing to May 2020," it added.
The detailed clarification by UIDAI came after the authority faced backlash for sending notices to members of minority community, with Hyderabad MP Asaduddin Owaisi calling the move "illegal and unacceptable".
"Section 9 of Aadhaar Act says that it isn’t proof of citizenship. What legal authority does UIDAI have to demand proof of citizenship? The notices don’t even mention the grounds on which they were issued. This is illegal & unacceptable," Owaisi tweeted.
Muzafarullah Khan Shafaat, a lawyer representing three people who were sent notices, told News18, "Three men approached me with such notices on Monday. Under what provision is the UIDAI sending notices asking people to prove their citizenship? As per rules of Aadhaar, if the authoritative body finds that someone has fraudulently acquired Aadhaar, they are supposed to deactivate the number and ask for proof of original documents, not proof of citizenship."
Objecting to the notice Srinivas Kodali, independent researcher working on data and governance, said that UIDAI does not possess the right to question the citizenship of individuals.
"Ideally Ministry of Home Affairs should be doing that. UIDAI is just an individual body looking over Aadhar functioning. This is not the first time in Hyderabad, but it started recently. Earlier they used to cancel Aadhar, now they’re after people. But companies which have enabled this have not been prosecuted," Kodali told News18.
He further said that that UIDAI has already filed cases of fraud against people in other states and following it in courts. However, the clarification by UIDAI later put the speculations on citizenship to rest.