Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) has temporarily banned Bharti Airtel and Airtel Payments Bank from conducting e-KYC process of mobile customers and e-KYC of payments bank clients on the basis of Aadhaar, reported PTI. The licence cancellation by UIDAI comes in the wake of allegations of Bharti Airtel using SIM verification of customers on the basis of Aadhaar and then initiating the process to open bank accounts without the consent of the customers.
Additionally, UIDAI also objected to allegations about such accounts being linked to receive LPG subsidies. UIDAI, in an interim order, “suspended e-KYC licence key of Bharti Airtel Ltd and Airtel Payment Bank Ltd with immediate effect,” PTI quoted sources as saying.
This decision of UIDAI implicates that Airtel shall not be able to conduct ‘e-verification’ or link customers’ SIM to Aadhaar (temporarily) through the e-KYC which is the efficient, paperless means to link SIM cards with Aadhaar.
In addition to this, Airtel Payments Bank will not be in the legal capacity to open a new account with Aadhaar e-KYC. However, accounts can be opened through ‘alternate methods’, if available.
When contacted, an Airtel spokesperson told PTI: “We can confirm that we have received the interim order from the UIDAI regarding temporary suspension of Aadhaar linked e-KYC services till their satisfaction on certain processes relating to Airtel payment banks onboarding of customers.”
“We are engaging with the authority and are hopeful of an early resolution. We are also undertaking to complete the said actions on priority and have commenced thorough checks of our process flows,” the spokesperson added.
“Being compliant to all guidelines is paramount to us. In the interim, any inconvenience to our customers is regretted,” the spokesperson further explained.
No less than 23 lakh customers have reportedly received about Rs 47 crore in their Airtel bank accounts, about which they were not aware of. Government LPG subsidy was also getting transferred to these accounts, without their knowledge or consent.
UIDAI observed that as per agreement, Airtel and Airtel Bank are duty bound and under a legal obligation to ensure security and privacy of identity information of the residents. Following the suspension of the ‘e-KYC licence key’, UIDAI has instructed PricewaterhouseCoopers to conduct an audit of Bharti Airtel and Airtel Payments Bank to establish if their systems and processes are in accordance with the Aadhaar Act.
UIDAI may consider revocation of suspension or decide further necessary course of action. The national authority has observed that Airtel and Airtel Payments Bank have been found to have violated many sections of Aadhaar Act, 2016. The act estabilishes that ‘obtaining explicit consent of the individual’ is mandatory before using the Aadhaar for services. Violations are liable to be punished with a fine of rupees one lakh per day and termination of authentication user agreements with the UIDAI.
Sources informed PTI that in response to the first notice of September 18, Airtel and Airtel Bank replied that the two entities have amended their process and the opening of a bank account is completely ‘de-linked’ from the other process of re-verification of mobile connection.
UIDAI found these replies to be unsatisfactory and issued another notice on November 24. The company responded by stating that no bank accounts was opened without the consent of the customers and additional safeguards have been put into place.
These replies were also found to be unworthy of UIDAI’s satisfaction and the authority continued to receive multiple complaints of unauthorised opening of Airtel Payments Bank account.
Sources further informed that the interim order showcased some of the complaints as examples of the violation and went on to state that Airtel and Airtel Bank had made “false statements” to “deceive and mislead” UIDAI
When UIDAI reviewed the Airtel mobile app, it discovered that when the app is opened, along with the welcome message a pre-ticked consent box is flashed for a short duration which mentions “Upgrade or create my Airtel Payment Bank wallet using existing Airtel mobile KYC.” This was found to reflect a blatant violation of Aadhaar Act and Regulations.
(With PTI inputs)