Process to link mobile numbers with Aadhaar may be eased

In order to expedite linking of mobile phone numbers with Aadhaar, the government on Wednesday announced three new modes to complete the process from home.

Telecom minister Manoj Sinha has said mobile numbers can be linked with Aadhaar through one time password (OTP), an app or IVRS facility. This is to simplify the process and make it convenient for people, the minister said, according to PTI.

This seems to belie earlier reports originating with The Times of India that the government is "ready to explore other options" for authenticating mobile numbers, including driver's licences or ration cards. Sinha's comments make it clear that the government is not budging on Aadhaar-mobile number linkage.

While the authentication of mobile phone number with Aadhaar, a process called re-verification, by visiting stores of telecom firms will continue, the government has also ordered the companies to carry out the exercise at the doorsteps of the disabled, chronically ill and senior citizens.

For users who do not have the 12-digit biometric identification number, a separate mechanism for e-verification - an exercise designed to weed out dummy and unscrupulous users - will be put in place shortly, a PTI source said.

For instance, such verification could be done through passports (in the case of Non-Resident Indians) or ration cards.

Announcing the new modes, the minister said, "The Aadhaar number system was designed to allow all residents to access to critical government services. It is the government's endeavour to improve convenience and reduce time and energy spent by consumers to accessing government information and services."

The OTP mode will leverage the mobile number which is already registered with the Aadhaar database, and can be used for re-verification of subscribers' other mobile numbers too.

Operators have been directed to facilitate request for the OTP to e-verify the cell phone numbers through websites or mobile apps. Keying in the OTP would complete the process.

Similarly, the Interactive Voice Response System or IVRS can be used as also verification through specially designed apps.

Nearly 50 crore mobile numbers are already registered in Aadhaar database, and the OTP can be leveraged for re-verification in all of these cases.

Sinha said the telecom operators should provide an online mechanism for people to request for doorstep verification for disabled, critically ill or old persons.

In case of agent-assisted biometric authentication for SIM re-verification or issuance, telcos have been asked to ensure that full e-KYC details of subscribers are not made visible to the agent. Nor should data be stored on the agent's device.

In the current dispensation, e-KYC data of the subscriber including photograph is visible to the agent of the telecom operator.

The government has made it mandatory to link Aadhaar cards with bank accounts, permanent account numbers (PAN), income tax return (ITR), social security schemes and mobile phones. The deadlines for each vary.

Sinha's announcement came on a day when the government told the Supreme Court that the deadline for mandatory linking of Aadhaar to avail benefits of various government schemes would be extended till March 31 next year.

There has been considerable opposition to the government's apparent overreach in linking mobile numbers with Aadhaar. On Tuesday, activist Tehseen Poonawala filed a plea in the Supreme Court seeking the quashing of the Department of Telecom's notification.

A day later, West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee said the Centre was "interfering with people's rights and privacy."

"Aadhaar number should not be linked with mobile phone. I will not link my Aadhaar number with my mobile even if my connection is snapped," Banerjee told her Trinamool Congress colleagues at a core committee meeting.