NEW DELHI: The flow of cooking gas subsidy into Airtel Bank accounts, allegedly opened without customers’ consent, has accelerated with cumulative subsidy deposited in these accounts rising to Rs 168 crore at November-end from Rs 47 crore three months ago.
State-run oil companies and the oil ministry have written to AirtelBSE -0.59 % Bank, Department of Financial Services and National Payments Corporation of India (NPCI) about this, but that hasn’t helped.
In its latest communication to NPCI, a state-run oil company has again requested deseeding of Airtel Bank accounts and reversal of such deposits to customers’ conventional bank accounts, which had previously received subsidy. NPCI maps bank accounts with Aadhaar and oversees retail payments and settlement systems in the country.
The public sector oil companies have alleged that the bank opened accounts of most of these customers without their consent, leading to immense inconvenience to them since many of them aren’t familiar with digital transactions and lack knowledge of using the subsidy lying in their accounts.
The Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI), which issues Aadhaar, has also warned Airtel Bank not to open bank accounts of Bharti Airtel’s mobile phone subscribers without taking their informed consent.
Airtel has denied these allegations. “Airtel Payments Bank has a clearly laid down process for opening of accounts, which are to be opened only after taking the explicit consent from the customer,” Airtel Bank said in response to ET’s query.
At the heart of the matter is a government rule: The subsidy doesn’t have to go to the bank account a customer has provided for the purpose but to an account that’s the last to be linked to Aadhaar. These days every new and old bank accounts must be linked to Aadhaar. In several cases, Airtel Bank accounts, even if opened without consent, become the latest account for a customer to be linked to Aadhaar, and therefore are eligible for receiving subsidy.
A change in rule can put an end to inconvenience to customers in the future. By letting transfer of subsidy only into accounts customers have desired would largely help resolve the issue.
For the current mess, state-run oil companies expect NPCI to find a solution. The oil companies have told NPCI that most consumers are not able to withdraw the amount from Airtel Bank nor are they aware of online banking features to get access to their subsidy. Attempting to withdraw cash from Airtel Bank involves cost in terms of travelling to Airtel’s touchpoints even if the company charges no fee for withdrawal or account closure.