Exchanges seek clarification from Bharti Airtel on Aadhaar misuse charges

Stock exchanges in India have sought a clarification from India’s largest telecom company by revenue, Bharti Airtel, on a report that it was under investigation by a government agency for allegedly misusing customer data to open bank accounts in their names.

“(The) exchange has advised the company to provide clarification/confirmation on the news item in detail including the following: a) Whether such event/negotiations/article stated in published news were taking place? If so, you are advised to provide the said information along with the sequence of events in chronological order and the material impact of this article on the Company,” the NSE said in a statement.

The demand comes after a report in Times of India today said the administrative body behind India’s biometric identification system, Aadhaar, had ordered an investigation against Bharti Airtel.

Bharti Airtel is one of the dozens of companies and agencies that have been authorized by UID Authority of India to validate Aadhaar biometric data to identify its customers.

However, it is alleged that agents of the company used the identification data to open accounts for the company’s customers in its fledgling Payments Bank arm.

As a result, UIDAI ” is threatening to slap a financial penalty for opening Airtel Payments Bank accounts of customers surreptitiously while carrying out Aadhaar verification of their mobile numbers,” the report in the Times of India said.

Going by media reports, many of Bharti Airtel’s customers were surprised to find that they did not get their cooking gas subsidies in their regular bank accounts.

According to India’s subsidy disbursement system, such entitlements are routed to the latest bank account that has been linked to the Aadhaar database.

The company has a roster of charges that specifies that banking customers will be charged 0.65% of the amount as withdrawal fees for taking cash out of their account and 0.5% when they transfer money from their payments bank account to any other regular bank account.