At least three residents of Hyderabad city – all of them Muslim – have been served notices by the Unique Identification Authority of India, directing them to prove that they are Indian citizens and have not obtained Aadhaar numbers through fraudulent means.

According to the notices, dated February 3, the individuals have been summoned because the authority’s regional office in Hyderabad received “a complaint/allegation” that they were not Indian nationals and had obtained Aadhaar through “false pretences” and by submitting false documents.

The notice claimed that the Hyderabad regional office has instituted an inquiry into the veracity of the allegation, and summoned the three before inquiry officer Amita Bindroo on February 20 to produce original documents to prove their citizenship. If they fail to appear in person and produce the documents, their Aadhaar numbers will be deactivated. However, the notice did not specify the documents that would be considered proof of citizenship.

In a statement, the government body said the hearing had been postponed to May “since it may take them [the three respondents] some more time to collect their original documents that they had submitted for obtaining Aadhaar, as informed by the state police”.

The UIDAI notice sent to one of the three Hyderabad residents.

Under the Aadhaar Act, 2016, Aadhaar numbers are linked to an individual’s residency, not citizenship. All residents of India, including foreign nationals, are eligible for Aadhaar if they have been residing in India for more than 182 days before applying to enrol with the Unique Identification Authority of India.

“So with what authority is UIDAI asking people to prove their citizenship?” asked Muzafarullah Khan Shafaat, a lawyer representing the three who have been summoned. “As per the Aadhaar rules, if UIDAI finds that someone has fraudulently acquired Aadhar, they are supposed to deactivate the number and ask for proof of original documents, not for proof of citizenship.”

According to Shafaat, his clients are illiterate, belong to working-class families, and are residents of the same locality. “All of them got their Aadhaar cards made in 2017 and 2018 at the same enrolment centre,” he added. The lawyer said his clients did not wish to speak to the media, and are now struggling to put together documents that they hope will prove they are Indians.

The unique identification authority claimed the notices were part of a “routine quality improvement process” that is regularly conducted. “These notices have nothing to do with citizenship and cancellation of Aadhaar number is in no way related to the nationality of any resident,” it added. “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.”

The government body clarified that Aadhaar was not “a document of citizenship” and the Aadhaar Act mandates that the UIDAI “ascertain the residency of a person in India for 182 days prior to applying for Aadhaar”. The authority said its regional office in Hyderabad had received reports that 127 people had acquired Aadhaar on “false pretences”, and the preliminary investigation found them to be undocumented immigrants.

The notices come amid protests against the Citizenship Amendment Act, which was passed in December, and the National Register of Citizens. The amended Act provides citizenship to refugees from six minority religious communities from Bangladesh, Afghanistan and Pakistan, provided they have lived in India for six years and entered the country by December 31, 2014. It has been widely criticised for excluding Muslims, leading to protests against it. The government also intends to conduct a National Register of Citizens drive across India to identify undocumented immigrants. Its critics fear that the amended citizenship law, clubbed with the NRC, will be misused to target Muslims since the Citizenship Act now has religion as a criterion.