Airtel to return Rs190 cr gas subsidy in unauthorised accounts

After getting pulled up by the Unique Identification Authority of India for opening unauthorised payments bank accounts, Airtel on Monday offered to return Rs190 crore subsidy that had flowed into the Airtel Payments Bank accounts of mobile phone subscribers.

Airtel wrote to National Payments Corporation of India (NPCI) promising to return this amount along with interest to the consumers' original bank accounts that were linked to Direct Benefit Transfer (DBT) scheme, reports today said. NPCI is the umbrella organisation for all non-cash retail payments in India.

Both Airtel and Airtel Payments bank came under fire after Airtel allegedly opened accounts of its mobile phone subscribers without seeking their "informed consent", with LPG subsidy worth crores of rupees being deposited to these accounts.

After this came to light, the UIDAI on Saturday temporarily barred the company from conducting Aadhaar-based SIM verification of mobile customers using the e-KYC process and e-KYC of payments bank clients.

The Aadhaar issuing body UIDAI also ordered PricewaterhouseCoopers to conduct an audit of Bharti Airtel and Airtel Payments Bank to ascertain if their systems and processes are in compliance with the Aadhaar Act (See: Airtel banned from e-KYC over opening unauthorised bank accounts).

Mounting pressure on Airtel, the state-run oil companies had begun writing to the Sunil Mittal-led firm asking it to transfer back the LPG subsidy that got credited to its payment bank accounts.

Hindustan Petroleum Corporation Ltd (HPCL) had earlier written to Airtel Payments Bank and requested that the subsidy amounts of these consumers be immediately either transferred back to the customers' earlier bank accounts or to the respective oil marketing companies.

"In many cases, across the three oil marketing companies (IOCL, BPCL and HPCL) where the Aadhaar linking of LPG consumers has got changed in the NPCI mapper to Airtel Bank and hence the LPG subsidy is getting sent to the new bank account in the Airtel Bank," HPCL said in a statement.

Out of Rs167.72 crore of subsidy landing in unauthorised Airtel Payments Bank accounts, Rs88.18 crore of subsidy was transferred for 17.32 lakh consumers enrolled with Indian Oil Corp (IOC), over Rs40 crore subsidy belonged to 10.06 lakh consumers enrolled with HPCL and Rs39.46 crore to 9.8 lakh consumers of Bharat Petroleum Corp Ltd (BPCL), according to DNA citing a senior official.

The petroleum and natural gas ministry along with oil marketing companies have been receiving a large number of complaints from users regarding non-credit of the LPG subsidy amounts in their bank accounts for the past few weeks.

When contacted, an Airtel Payments Bank spokesperson said, "As per government rules, DBT (direct benefit transfer) subsidy goes to the latest Aadhaar-linked bank account. Customers can withdraw this at any of our designated outlets. No charges for such withdrawals are levied. Having said that, given that some customers have experienced inconvenience of not being aware of which bank account the DBT has gone to, we are fully committed to resolving this immediately. We are in the process of taking appropriate steps in respect of the same."