Penalty against telcos on verification norms unfair: Trai official

The issue can be resolved through digital identity for subscriber verification, which is done manually as of now, according to a top official from Trai

New Delhi: The government’s decision to impose a penalty of Rs.2,313 crore on telecom operators for violating subscriber verification norms till 31 May is unfair and the issue can be resolved through digital identity for subscriber verification, a top official from the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai) said.

Currently, the process of customer identity verification is manual and based on physical documentation. A number of SIM cards are issued in India on fake identities and are misused for illegal and unlawful networking purposes.

The department of telecommunication (DoT) levied the penalty on Bharat Sanchar Nigam Ltd, Bharti Airtel Ltd, Idea Cellular Ltd, Reliance Communications Ltd and Vodafone India Ltd.

The Trai official told Mint on condition of anonymity that the telcos are being charged unfairly since they are unable to verify the fake identities given to them.

“If the entire process is digitized and electronically executed, such a situation won’t arise,” the official said.

In January 2016, Trai had written to DoT suggesting adoption of a digital identity for subscriber verification, calling the entire procedure for subscriber verification followed currently “cumbersome and resource intensive”.

“Aadhar-linked e-KYC service, provided by the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI), is a fool-proof mechanism to verify the identity of the person electronically, instantaneously from the source itself. It will reduce the risk of identity fraud and document forgery but it will also make the entire process of verification paperless,” Trai had said in its letter.

The Trai official added, “We have been recommending DoT that they should do something about the verification process. This is what Digital India process is all about, making things paperless. Most people hold Aadhar cards, the benefit will be that dealers who issue SIM cards without proper verification cannot do so.”

“The telcos are paying penalty on the entire issue whereas telcos are not issuing SIM cards, the dealers at ground level are doing so,” the official added.

The current procedure as per directions passed in 2012 by DoT after a judgment by the Supreme Court require collection of documents for proof of identity and address at the point of sale by the dealers of SIM cards. The subscriber is tele-verified by the telcos for activation of SIM on the basis of the database provided in customer acquisition forms, which can be manipulated using fake identities.

Cellular Operators’ Association of India’s director general Rajan S. Mathews told Mint, “The telcos will challenge the penalty levied on them on grounds that they are not at fault. Industry has also been seeking electronic and Aadhar-based verification which is now entirely paper based, and so we have also been writing to DoT.”

“DoT has also been planning to revive issuance guidelines and shall issue the same in next 30 days or so,” Mathews said.