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‘Re-verification of existing subscribers could cost telcos up to Rs 2,500Cr’: COAI

Telecom lobbying association COAI estimates that the proposed re-verification of existing subscribers via Aadhaar might cost up to Rs 2,500 crore, as indicated by this PTI report. In a letter to the department of telecommunications (DoT), COAI also sought exemption of bulk corporate connections, post-paid accounts, SIMs used for non-voice usage (with iPads, PoS counters), and data cards from the mandatory re-verification.

COAI’s letter comes after the telecom regulator TRAI’s recommended that existing subscribers should be verified under Aadhaar-based eKYC (Know Your Customer) process to weed out SIM cards acquired using fake/forged identity. The regulator also said that existing subscribers could be provided with freebies or “sops” in form of free talk time or data in order to encourage them to undergo the eKYC process.

According to the report, COAI suggested that Aadhaar eKYC could be made mandatory for new subscribers, once existing telcos have rolled out the feature in more telecom circles on a pan-India basis. Currently, telecom operators including BSNL, Airtel, Jio, Vodafone and Idea have initiated Aadhaar-based SIM activation across its branded retails outlets. The lobbying body also sought to exempt foreign nationals and company-owned connections from mandatory re-verification, and telecom circles including J&K and Assam due to low Aadhaar saturations levels.

Re-verification through Aadhaar should not be mandated at the time of recharge”

Apart from this, COAI pointed out that existing subscribers should not be mandated to verify themselves via Aadhaar at the time of recharge, stating that it could cause “inconvenience” to subscribers. This was initially proposed by the Supreme Court to the DoT in this month. Subscriber details stored with a telecom company will be matched with details of the same subscriber stored in the UIDAI server. The COAI, however, pointed out that a penalty should not be imposed on subscribers in case their details don’t match up with the UIDAI database.

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Note that In Rajasthan, only 63% of beneficiaries received their rations after Aadhaar was made mandatory, while rest were “turned away” due to authentication failures while matching user details with the UIDAI database, as pointed out by this Scroll report.

MediaNama’s Take: As we pointed out earlier, TRAI’s suggestion to mandate Aadhaar cards for SIM cards seems to be farfetched from apex Court’s earlier stance. The SC had earlier clamped down on the government multiple times (herehere, and here) for making Aadhaar mandatory for public services. However, the Supreme Court itself has upheld TRAI stance recently and this seems more like a massive exercise to increase Aaadhaar penetration in India. The court did not mention or discuss inconveniences that existing subscribers could face in case Aadhaar is made mandatory.

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