Update (4:20 pm): Lok Sabha MP from Hyderabad, Asaduddin Owaisi, accused the deputy director of UIDAI of exceeding their powers and sought confirmation from the Telangana Police regarding whether or not they shared the names of the 127 people to UIDAI, in a tweet earlier today. He claimed that the notices sent out by UIDAI do not even explain what the false pretences are, under which certain individuals have been charged, and that the deputy director made this case about “verifying citizenship – which they aren’t empowered to do”. He also rebuked the Telangana Police for demanding Aadhaar during its operations even though the body is not legally permitted to do so.

A day after the UIDAI ordered an inquiry into 127 residents of Hyderabad over suspicions of them being illegal immigrants and obtaining Aadhaar on “false pretences”, the Authority clarified that the reports of the inquiry were not presented in “correct perspective” and that Aadhaar has got nothing to do with claims of citizenship, in a Twitter update on February 19.

UIDAI, however, did acknowledge that as per preliminary enquiry from the state police, it was found that the same 127 people were illegal immigrants who forged their documents and thus their Aadhaar numbers were liable to be cancelled. The concerned individuals now have to appear before the Deputy Director for a personal hearing in May.

UIDAI reiterates that Aadhaar not linked to citizenship: UIDAI reiterated that this cancellation of Aadhaar is not linked to the nationality of any resident and that it is an attempt at removing Aadhaar numbers based on fake documents or biometrics. As per UIDAI, the notices were sent after their regional office received reports from the state police, about 127 people being illegal immigrants who did not fulfill the eligibility for Aadhaar. They added that the notices were meant to ask the concerned people to appear in court and substantiate their claims for an Aadhaar card. The press release also mentioned that the Supreme Court of India in its landmark decision had directed UIDAI to not issue Aadhaar to illegal immigrants.

“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.” — UIDAI

If it is found and proven that the individuals have obtained Aadhaar by submitting false documents or through false pretences, then their Aadhaar might be cancelled or suspended based on the “severity of the transgression”.

On February 18, the UIDAI had sent notices to individuals asking them to appear before the deputy director with “all the necessary documents in original to prove your claims of Indian Citizenship” and if not citizenship to prove that they have entered India legally and that their stay is valid.

UIDAI’s history with fake Aadhaar cards

The UIDAI has not mentioned anything about how the Hyderabad police managed to establish that the individuals had forged their documents. MediaNama has reached out to UIDAI seeking clarification on how the fake documents managed to get past them in the first place and whether the only way for them to find out about forgery of such documents is through reports from state police. It is important to note that the UIDAI has been mandated under the Aadhaar Act to ascertain the residency of a person in India for 182 days prior to applying for Aadhaar.

“The main issue is the police collecting information from citizens in the name of verification across the city”, data and governance researcher, Srinivas Kodali, told MediaNama. He added that there is a shift in the approach of how UIDAI is acting against potential fraud as instead of cancelling Aadhaar when detected to be fake, the organisation is now trying to prosecute people and send them to jail.

Why this matters: This is not the first time that people have been accused of using or caught with fake Aadhaar numbers.

  • Last week, an investigation about a fake Aadhaar scam involving hundreds of bank operators had been handed out to Haryana CM’s flying squad, Tribune India had reported.
  • On February 12, an engineering graduate from Andhra Pradesh was arrested for using a fake Aadhaar for buying 6 mobile phones and failing to pay the monthly instalments, as per Deccan Chronicle.
  • In September 2019, three people were arrested by the Uttar Pradesh police for allegedly selling stolen vehicles on online selling websites, including OLX. These people allegedly created fake documents including Aadhaar cards to carry out the fraud.

It is also important to note that in 2017, in reply to an RTI query by PTI, the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) cited concerns for ‘national security’ to deny data on the number of fake and duplicate Aadhaar cards out there, currently. It also refused to provide details of action (if any) it has taken in such cases.