UIDAI Asks 127 to Prove Citizenship, Lawyer Calls it 'Soft NRC'
Lawyer for the accused has said they will move the high court based on the charges brought during the enquiry.
The Unique Identity Authority of India (UIDAI) has served notices to 127 individuals alleging that they may not be Indian nationals and has directed them to prove their citizenship by furnishing relevant documents.
The UIDAI, in its letter dated 3 February, has stated that it has received “complaint/allegation” that the accused have “obtained Aadhaar through false pretenses, making false claims and submitting false documents.”
Following outrage on social media, with political leaders and activists challenging the UIDAI’s authority to question individuals on citizenship and calling it an attempt to introduce a “soft NRC”, UIDAI scrambled to issue a clarification.
In a press statement, issued on Tuesday, 18 February, UIDAI clarified “these notices have nothing to do with citizenship and cancellation of Aadhaar number is in no way related to the nationality of any resident.”
However, UIDAI’s clarification appears to contradict its own letter which directed the accused “to prove all your claims of citizenship.”
Father of Accused Worked For Govt Co: Lawyer
Muzafarullah Khan Shafaat, senior advocate representing Mohd Sattar Khan, an Aadhaar holder and resident of Char Minar area in Hyderabad, told The Quint that his client and his parents have all been residents of Hyderabad. Strongly contesting UIDAI's allegation, Shafaat said, “Sattar Khan is son of Aziz Khan who used to work in Hyderabad Allwyn, an erstwhile engineering company under Andhra Pradesh State government.”
"They have stayed in this (Char Minar) area only. The father’s identity card and pension card are also there. His mother used to receive pension after his father’s demise."Muzafarullah Khan Shafaat, senior advocate representing Mohd Sattar Khan, an Aadhaar holder in Hyderabad.
The Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) on Tuesday, 18 February, said its Hyderabad office has sent notices to 127 people for allegedly obtaining Aadhaar numbers on "false pretences" but asserted these have nothing to do with citizenship.
The notices were issued after reports from the Telangana state police, the UIDAI said.
"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.
However, UIDAI’s letter, dated 3 February and its clarifications have raised questions and contradictions:
What UIDAI clarification says: “These notices have nothing to do with citizenship.”
What UIDAI letter said: “You are hereby directed to appear before the enquiry officer ...with all your documents in original to prove your claim of citizenship.”
What UIDAI clarification says: “Cancellation of Aadhaar number is in no way related to the nationality of any resident.”
What UIDAI letter said: To prevent cancellation of Aadhaar, the accused must show up at the enquiry in May and prove citizenship.
Under the provisions of the Aadhaar (Enrolment and Update) Regulations, 2016, the UIDAI can look into omission or deactivation of Aadhaar number and identity information.
Section 29 says “inquiry into cases requiring omission or deactivation” requires a field inquiry “which may include hearing the persons whose Aadhaar number is sought to be omitted or deactivated.”
Lok Sabha MP Asaduddin Owaisi pointed out on Twitter that “the words used in the notice is verification of citizenship (not validity of Aadhaar),” adding that “they clearly exceeded their powers by issuing this notice".
Reacting sharply to the incident, the AIMIM leader claimed, “The Deputy Director in this case made it about verifying citizenship - which they aren’t empowered to do.”
Questions for UIDAI By Lawyer of Accused
The Quint spoke with Muzafarullah Khan Shafaat, the lawyer representing three such Aadhaar-holders in Hyderabad. He raised several questions for the UIDAI on the alleged discrepancies in the process. Shafaat said two of his clients were afraid to have their names disclosed.
He, however, spoke at length about Mohd Sattar Khan, a resident of Char Minar, who he says is semi-literate and works as a daily wage labourer.
1. Authority of UIDAI to Question Citizenship?
“If suppose, for argument's sake it is accepted they [the clients] are in possession of fake Aadhaar or they have not provided sufficient information and have got Aadhaar copy. Then also the UIDAI can’t question about citizenship. UIDAI act doesn’t empower them to question citizenship,” claimed Shafaat.
2. Why No Clarity by UIDAI on Documents Sought?
“They have not mentioned the documents my client has to submit to prove it. As far as educated persons are concerned, they will have birth certificates,” said Shafaat. “Whereas poor people working as daily wage labourers won’t. Any person working in the fields won’t have one,” he added.
3. Why Did It Take Two Years To Level This Allegation?
“They have been issued their Aadhaar numbers in 2017. And they want to question the Aadhaar in 2019?” he asked, wondering aloud whether any department can now question one’s citizenship.
4. Why Only One Person Singled Out?
“He is married and has four children and the whole family have been issued Aadhaar cards. But he is the only one who has been questioned.”
Shafaat added that Sattar’s two brothers and four sisters also have UIDAI-issued Aadhaar IDs.
'This is Soft NRC'
Senior advocate Shafaat, who is representing the accused, echoed Owaisi, who stated on Twitter that “UIDAI has no power to verify citizenship”.
Expressing concern about the manner in which the allegations have emerged and the strict demand to prove citizenship and not residency, Shafaat said this was akin “to a soft NRC”.
“For testing purpose I think they have started this. If we stay silent they’ll do it in a larger way,” he said.
“No complaint copy (of Telangana state police) has been given to us,” Shafaat added, stating that there is no clarity on what basis the police has found the individuals to be illegal immigrants.
“As far as the matter is concerned they are conducting an enquiry. You can’t challenge the enquiry before the high court by filing a writ petition.”
"So if they are conducting an enquiry we will let them and question the same thing. Let them pass an order. If they pass an order we will challenge the order in high court."Muzafarullah Khan Shafaat, senior advocate representing Mohd Sattar Khan, an Aadhaar holder in Hyderabad.
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