Aadhaar, the biometrics-based unique identity number all Indian residents are entitled to, is being made mandatory for access to a wide range of government services. On Wednesday, the government proposed to make it mandatory for income tax filings from July. Last month, the government notified that Aadhaar, or at least proof of enrolment in Aadhaar, was mandatory for several vulnerable groups – including women rescued from trafficking, workers engaged in forced labour, schoolchildren between six and 14 years of age, and people with disabilities – to continue to receive government benefits. In the case of the schoolchildren, for instance, they will not be served mid-day meals from June if they cannot present their Aadhaar credentials.
The notifications state that the use of Aadhaar as a document of identification will bring in “transparency and efficiency”. But they, and the Aadhaar (Targeted Delivery of Financial and Other Subsidies, Benefits and Services) Act, 2016, fail to specify what protection individuals will be accorded in the instance of their Aadhaar numbers being deactivated – which the Unique Identification Authority of India is authorised to carry out and has been doing in large numbers.
With the 12-digit numbers being linked to most basic services, their deactivation would have serious consequences for citizens, depriving them of their basic needs.
The Aadhaar Act regulations, which are currently in Parliament, state that an individual’s Aadhaar number may be “omitted” permanently or deactivated temporarily by the Unique Identification Authority of India, the agency responsible for issuing the numbers and managing the database. The regulations give the Authority the power to deactivate Aadhaar numbers even in the absence of an effective grievance redressal procedure for those whose numbers have been suspended.
Regulation 28 lists five circumstances under which a person’s Aadhaar number may be deactivated. These are:
- If a child at 5 or 15 years of age fails to update biometrics afresh within two years of attaining age.
- If biometrics were not captured despite the resident being able to provide them.
- If enrolment is later found to have been done without valid documents.
- If an existing photograph has been used instead of capturing a fresh photograph.
- If information captured is flagged as having “bad data”.
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Besides these five instances, there is also an omnibus reason: “Any other case requiring deactivation as deemed appropriate” by the Unique Identification Authority of India.
The regulations say that after omission or deactivation, “an agency nominated by UIDAI” may conduct a field enquiry and hear out the affected person. But this is not provided as a right to the number holder.
After the regulations were notified in September, this reporter submitted several right-to-information applications posing questions to the Unique Identification Authority of India on the deactivation process – as part of Scroll.in’s ongoing Identity Project series on the implementation of Aadhaar, which now has over a billion people enrolled. The period for which information was sought was from September 2010, when the first Aadhaar number was issued, till October 31, 2016. Most of the replies from the Authority’s regional offices were received in December and January, with a final response coming in on March 1.
Replying to Scroll.in’s query, the Unique Identification Authority of India stated that it has deactivated 85,67,177 Aadhaar numbers for “biometric update” and 408 for “demographic update” between September 2010 and August 2016.
The Authority’s Data Update Policy states that the fingerprints and iris scans of infants and children enrolled in Aadhaar must be updated within two years of their attaining the age of five, and then again at the age of 15. If they fail to do so within this stipulated two-year period, their Aadhaar numbers will be automatically deactivated.
Demographic updates pertain to changes such as death, change of address, or to correct errors in demographic data during enrolment.
The Authority’s Technology Centre stated that it does not maintain data on deactivations according to the enrolment agency or the registrar that carried out the enrolment, or the authorised official who carried out the deactivation. It said that Aadhaar numbers requiring deactivation are simply “identified by enrolment processing systems” and the deactivation is done “without human intervention”.
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