Subscriber shocked to find LPG subsidy diverted to Airtel account
Srinagar: Airtel mobile consumers have to be cautious while getting their phone numbers linked with their Aadhaar ID, as the company is opening Airtel payments bank accounts in their names, without their consent.
While many subscribers have complained that the telecom company has opened these payment accounts without their knowledge, Ghulam Hassan, a Srinagar resident, was in for a rude shock when he received a text message informing him that his LPG subsidy had been diverted to his Airtel account.
Hassan, 71, said that he had his mobile phone number linked with his Aadhaar ID at an Airtel outlet in Khanyar, Srinagar.
He was charged Rs 10, he said, which is itself an illegal fee charged by the company or its dealer. A greater surprise came later, when Hassan realised that an Airtel payments bank account had been opened against his phone number.
“A few days later I received an SMS that my Airtel account has been linked for DBT (direct benefit transfer). I was confounded,” Hassan said. “After a few days, I saw that my LPG subsidy has been diverted to the Airtel banking account, which I have no idea how to use.”
The Airtel customer service, he said, told him that he can get the subsidy amount cashed from a retailer.
“Why should I visit a retailer? I used to get the amount in my bank account,” Hassan said.
“My LPG subsidy was linked to my savings bank account. Without my consent, Airtel diverted my subsidy to their banking account, which I had never asked for in the first place.”
After a heated argument with the company’s customer service, he said, they agreed to delink the LPG subsidy from the Airtel account, but he now has to visit the bank and the LPG dealer may ask him to get his LPG connection linked with his savings bank account again.
“This is a big scam. First the opening of an Airtel banking account without consent is in itself a scam. Then, diverting LPG subsidy to their own account is an open fraud and deceit,” Hassan said. “I have to make visits to the bank and to the LPG retailer for no fault of mine.”
Airtel has previously come under the scanner for complaints of “unethically” opening payment accounts in their subscribers’ names.
In September, the Aadhaar issuing body, the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI), sent a notice to Airtel for opening payments bank accounts without taking the “informed consent” of customers.
According to a PTI report, the UIDAI notice sent to Airtel stated that acts of not taking consent and informing subscribers of the purpose of authentication (of Aadhaar) was a violation of rules and punishable with financial penalties.
The UIDAI also asked Bharti Airtel and its payments bank entity to take immediate corrective measures and report back to the authority on the same.
While Airtel maintained that it was opening accounts only with the consent of customers, the unethical practice apparently continues despite the UIDAI notice.
Earlier this month, the Economic Times reported that more than 23 lakh customers have received cooking gas subsidy of Rs 47 crore in their Airtel payment bank accounts, which they don’t remember to have opened. The report prompted the government to intervene, even as the country’s top telecom company denied any wrongdoing.
Responding to the reports the Ministry of Petroleum and Natural Gas said that “as per subsidy transfer protocol, the LPG subsidy is transferred to the (latest) bank account of the beneficiary seeded with their Aadhaar”.
This means that the simple act of opening an Airtel payment account would divert LPG subsidies to the account without the subscriber realising it or being informed of it.