There could be a fresh KYC headache for over 50 crore mobile connections or almost half of India’s phone population. They stare at the prospect of disconnection if SIM cards procured on the basis of Aadhaar verification are not backed up by a fresh identification.
The issue has come to the fore following the Supreme Court’s judgment on Aadhaar where the court barred private companies from using an individual’s unique ID for authentication purposes.
The matter is now being discussed at the highest levels in the government, considering the large-scale impact it can have on citizens if phones are disconnected in vast numbers. Officials indicated that the government will give adequate time to complete fresh KYC.
On Wednesday, telecom secretary Aruna Sundararajan met mobile companies on the matter where a way out, and an alternative was discussed. The telecom department is also in discussions with the Unique Identification Authority of India over the issue.
Sundararajan told TOI that the government is mindful of the concerns in this regard and is looking to thrash a way out at the earliest. She insisted that the government wants to make sure that “customers are not inconvenienced” during the transition. “We want to ensure that it is a smooth transition with little problems for subscribers,” she said.
A large part of the connections procured using Aadhaar would be from the stable of Reliance Jio, the newest entrant in the mobile business that began operations in September 2016 by on-boarding customers only through the biometric route. (Jio announced on Wednesday that the company had a subscriber base of over 25 crore at the end of September this year.)
Apart from Jio, there would be similar subscribers (who have been given SIM cards only on the basis of Aadhaar authentication) in the fold of almost all the other phone companies — Bharti Airtel, Vodafone-Idea, and state-owned BSNL and MTNL.
Apart from these, millions of older customers are also left with only the digital Aadhaar identification since their previous pre-Aadhaar KYC paper documents may have been destroyed by telecom companies once their numbers were linked with Aadhaar. The freedom to destroy the older documents was accorded by the government in March last year since the documents were going digital by linkage with Aadhaar.
Mobile companies say they are waiting for a direction from the telecom department on the issue. “We are still not clear on the way forward. We had been asked by UIDAI to submit an ‘exit plan’ by October 15.
However, a final direction on this matter will be clear only when we receive instructions from the telecom ministry,” a top official at one of the leading mobile companies said.
On the way forward, sources said that customers may now have to submit a fresh identification document as part of the KYC process. This could be a copy of the passport, driving licence, voter’s card, electricity bill, gas bill or PAN card.
The telecom department is expected to give a fresh order to the companies on the matter very soon, sources said.