In perhaps one of the strangest government goof-ups India has seen till date, thousands of people across the country have received Aadhaar letters with photographs of trees, animals or buildings in place of their own. Fifty-two-year-old south Delhi resident Ashish Kumar Mathur, for instance, was thrilled when he got his letter earlier than expected. But his joy was short-lived as he opened the envelope and saw that the letter carried the photo of a tree against his name. 

The Aadhaar letter provides a person with a unique identification number that becomes a valid proof of identity to avail of several services such as getting a passport or opening a bank account. But the document has no value if the photo is of a person different from the one whose name and address it mentions — and even less so, one could say, if the photo is of an inanimate thing.

Having said that, the case of the daughter of Andhra Pradesh resident MS Reddy is no better for having the photo of a dog on her Aadhaar letter. “It is a disgrace,” Reddy wrote angrily on his blog, raising questions about the entire Aadhaar project.

The Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) said in response to a Right to Information (RTI) application filed by this reporter that 3,858 Aadhaar letters with photographs of non-humans have been detected so far.

In addition, 14,817 cases of Aadhaar letters bearing photos of wrong people have been detected. “I am 71 and my Aadhaar letter has the photo of a person in his early twenties,” said Punjab resident Om Prakash Syngal.

In its reply, the UIDAI attributed the goof-up to an error in the printing software, which, the authority claimed, accidentally picked random pictures from the computer being used. “The application used an incorrect algorithm to choose the photo,” it said, adding that a process to identify such cases was initiated once the reason for the glitch was identified.