The government has issued instructions to telecom operators to accept other valid forms of identification such as passport, driving licence and Voter ID, the Times of India reports. Telecom secretary Aruna Sundararajan said telecom operators have been asked to follow the instructions immediately.
This move comes in the wake of the counsel for the government being forced to admit in the Supreme Court that the government claims of the Supreme Court directing it to mandate Aadhaar-mobile linking were false, when Justice Chandrachud bluntly stated that they had provided no such order. In spite of this admission being reported widely, telecoms, going by existing government orders, continued to require Aadhaar for obtaining mobile SIMs and sending reminders to link Aadhaar with SIMs according to some posts on social media and an article by Times of India.
Director General of COAI, Rajan Matthews, had explained this then as the telecom operators following the government instructions by asking people to link their Aadhaar with their SIMs without mentioning a deadline as instructed by the government. He had pointed out that the court had extended the date of linking indefinitely, not asked telecom operators to stop.
In a rather ironic reversal, a senior official in the government seems to have told the ToI that such denial by retailers is “completely uncalled for” in the absence of legal basis to enforce it and warned “Such practices will not be tolerated.” It seems that the government has asked mobile companies to “take it easy” on the issue of reverification of mobile numbers with Aadhaar, as after the Supreme Court’s indefinite stay on the linking, there is no merit for mobile operators to “unnecessarily push” their subscribers on the matter.
Controversy around reporting of court proceedings
An article yesterday, in the LiveMint by Rahul Matthan, who was assisting Senior Advocate Neeraj Kishan Kaul, who was representing Digital Lenders Association and other businesses who had filed a petition in the case asking for Section 57 of the Aadhaar Act to not be struck down, alleged misreporting of the statements of Senior Advocate Rakesh Dwivedi. He claimed that he did not see Dwivedi as having said that SIM linkage was being done on the recommendation of the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India, even before the Lokniti judgement. The article lacks the disclosure that he was with the legal team.
He also recommended better permissions for live reporting from the Supreme Court to prevent misreporting. (This is also the subject of a petition by Senior Advocate Indira Jaisingh, which asks for live streaming of Supreme Court proceedings).
In response to Matthan, Prasanna S, a lawyers representing the petitioners in the Constitutional Challenge to the Aadhaar Act, who live tweets Supreme Court proceedings, posted a thread on Twitter providing more context. Here is the text, lightly edited and converted into pragraphs for readability:
Chinese Whispers it seems. Let me supply some crucial ommissions in this Rahul Matthan rant.
In August 2016, when the purported “Aadhar-based e-KYC for mobile” had been initiated, the Act was not in force and the 11.08.2015 order that prohibited UIDAI from sharing its data in any manner whatsoever, including E-KYC, was in force.
The A-G was appearing in the Aadhaar case and Union of India was bound by that bench’s orders – yet they conveniently refused to inform Justice Khehar’s bench of the same, and no notice to petitioners in the Aadhaar cases.
TRAI had filed an application to modify the 11.08.2015 order to allow it to use Aadhaar, which was not allowed by the Constitution Bench in its 15.10.2015 order even as it allowed voluntary use of Aadhaar in Jandhan, EPFO, Pensions and NREGA. The statement in the affidavit had no legal sanction whatsoever. Even under the Aadhaar Act, there was no Section 7 notification for mobile linking, nor was there any Section 57 scenario, given there was no law or contract that provided for it at the time.
That the IT minister, CEO of UIDAI, the A-G have all at various points in time referred to “Directions” in Lokniti is public record and a verifiable fact. There was a concession by the UIDAI counsel that the Lokniti orders had no “direction” to the government to reverify all SIMs via Aadhaar. It was reported accurately by those tweeting live proceedings including myself.
That there is no disclosure in that article, which is a rant on the neutrality of reporting, that the author assisted the senior counsel that appeared for the Digital Lenders association and other private parties that belatedly approached the Court to save Section 57.
This mischievous reference to Supreme Court’s non-existent orders by supposedly responsible state authorities is a violation of Article 144 of the Constitution and a violation of People’s right to information. Lawyers that advice UIDAI :- Please advice UIDAI that trust is seldom bestowed and that it needs to be gained.
According to a rough timeline presented below (will be updated with more detail), it is clear that the UIDAI had recommended and DoT had provided eKYC for mobile SIMs much before it was made mandatory. The TRAI recommendations did indeed come before the Lok Niti foundation order. The government and UIDAI have repeatedly refered to the Lok Niti order as the reason for making Aadhaar-mobile linking mandatory.
Regardless of the details of what Senior Advocate Rakesh Dwivedi said in court, it is clear that the government recognizes that they had no basis to mandate Aadhaar-mobile linking and has accordingly asked telcos to accept alternative ID.
This, however does not account for the rights of the people who were forced to link their Aadhaar with their mobile numbers for fear of disconnection on the basis of an order passed that was based on a falsified premise. The government should also order telecom operators to delete the Aadhaar details they have on record for customers who don’t wish for their Aadhaar to be linked with their mobile at the very least. Ideally, all stored Aadhaar numbers should be removed. Once authentication is done and the SIM is known to be verified, there remains no reasonable reason for a telecom company to further retain the identifying number.
There is also inadequate recognition of the fact that the deadlines and repeated reminders amounted to coercion and intimidation of reluctant subscribers in order to make them link their Aadhaars to their SIMs. The mandatory linking, requiring a visit to a telecom service provider’s outlet in person, also resulted in other undesirable consequences for people like, repeated SMS and phone call reminders threatening disconnection if not linked to the point of harassment, time and effort spent to go to a service provider’s location and get it done, further complications and stress for those whose biometrics would not validate, risking installation of opportunistic, but useless apps that could compromise the safety of their phones in an effort to get it done more easily, and more.
Aadhaar linking deadlines announced and extended so far:
- July 31, 2017
- August 31, 2017
- December 31, 2017
- March 31, 2018
- Stayed by Supreme Court and ordered accordingly by DoT
Timeline of Aadhaar-mobile linking
- The government instructs telecom operators to accept alternative means of identification.
- The counsel for the government in the Supreme Court admitted that the Supreme Court had not ordered Aadhaar-mobile linking in the Lok Niti order.
- UIDAI restored Airtel’s authorization to conduct e-KYC
- DoT instructed Telcos to not mention last date for Mobile linking in reminders
- Supreme Court stayed mandatory linking of Aadhaar with mobile till conclusion of case.
- DoT defined process for Aadhaar-mobile linking using IVR for NRIs and Senior Citizens (Dec 4)
- UIDAI ordered investigation against Airtel for opening Payments Bank accounts for subscribers who verified their SIMs with Aadhaar, resulting in Rs. 47 crore LPG subsidies being diverted to those accounts.
- DoT said that mobile numbers not linked with Aadhaar would not be disconnected.
- Supreme Court directed telecom operators and banks that messages to link Aadhaar should clearly mention last date (6th February 2018, at that time)
- UIDAI said that starting from December 1, 2018, subscribers would be able to verify mobile SIMs without biometrics.
- Government planned to tweak Aadhaar-mobile linking process for senior citizens, disabled and those with difficulties authenticating with fingerprints.
- Public Interest Litigation was filed in the Supreme Court challenging the mandatory linking of Aadhaar with mobile numbers.
- COAI asserted that regardless of Supreme Court judgment on privacy, telcos would continue to link Aadhaar with mobiles unless there were specific orders from DoT to the contrary.
- Department of Telecom makes it mandatory to link Aadhaar with mobile within a year
- DoT asks outstation customers asked to verify SIMs with Aadhaar and a “local reference”
- TRAI recommended that telecoms verify existing subscribers with Aadhaar
- BSNL rolled out Aadhaar e-KYC for subscribers.
- UIDAI wanted users to link mobiles with Aadhaar
- DoT circular notified about e-KYC process for verification with Telecoms for SIMs.