Aadhaar and mandatory linkage leading to discrimination against senior citizens
Dnyanada Deshpande 25 December 2017
On 22 December 2017, I was in the queue at the Airtel gallery to transfer service provider for my mobile number. I took the token and was waiting in the queue with the token number 37. In front of me was a 82-year-old gentleman, who wanted to transfer a subscriber identification module (SIM) to his own name. The SIM belonged to his daughter and was being used by him. He had all his documents in place including Aadhaar and other identification papers.
 
I was watching while the Airtel representative began to take care of this gentleman’s transfer formalities. The minute the she realized he is over 75, she bluntly said, “we don't issue SIM cards to people over 75 because they die soon”. (Yes, she said that! Or rather the colloquial – woh off ho jate hain). I was appalled on hearing about this policy. She further added, it is not official, but we are asked not to give SIM to elderly people. I saw the gentleman's face, he was helpless and disappointed. He also probably shocked that the representative was mentioning the possibility of death right in his face. The gentleman wanted a phone in his name, instead of that of his daughter, who lives in Dubai. He needed to change it to his name because it is now necessary to link his Aadhaar to his phone and his bank. The bills go to her address and if the bill payment is missed, his phone is disconnected by the service provider. He wanted the bills to be sent to him. Apparently, where Airtel is concerned, this cannot happen because he is above 75. 
 
This ageist discrimination is scary. His second son-in-law , Mr Suhas offered to help the gentleman by taking a phone in his name. But this only means a sense of dependency that he was trying to avoid, to begin with. There are many people in India who are alone by choice or by compulsion. What would be their plight? If your service provider rejects you a mobile SIM, who would come to their recue?
 
The reason the service providers give is that, especially for senior citizens, their Aadhaar and fingerprints often fail to match. One wonders why our fingerprints are needed by the telecom operators? When I posted about this incident on Facebook, my schoolfriend Neeraja narrated the same story. The non-matching fingerprints due to age and getting rejected by the service providers is not a singular story.
 
I tweeted about this incident and Sucheta Dalal responded promptly, followed by Vinay Sahasrabuddhe, Member of Parliament from the Rajya Sabha. They are taking this issue with the minister and Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI). 
 
I went to the Airtel gallery again after tweeting this and asked the person whether I can get a SIM for my grandfather who is above 75. They said it is difficult. I have made an audio reording of this conversation. The issue here is not to penalise one representative but bring about clarity and transparency in dealing with the senior citizens when they are buying a new mobile SIMs. I request that service providers make their policy transparent and make newspaper announcements for the senior citizens.
 
As Sucheta Dalal linked the tweets to the @Airtel_Presence, I received a standard bot response from Airtel signed by Dushyant and Soumya. They asked for my number, which is provided but did not get a response from them yet.
 
The entire transaction and thousands of transactions of such kind are getting recording on the CCTVs in the galleries. All that they need to tell if there is an unspoken policy not to issue SIMs to the elderly and they need to come clean about this discriminatory diktat and if so how they plan to train their representatives and display clearly the information for the seniors in their galleries. 
 
Remember, this is the same Airtel, which was recently penalised Rs2.5 crore by Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) for opening payment bank accounts without the consent of subscribers and diverting their subsidy to those accounts. 
 
Harassment of senior citizens because of failure of finger print matching is rampant and UIDAI has promised alternatives. Although Iris scans are an option, they are expensive and most authentication centres do not have the facility. Moneylife has already written how telecom executives are asking seniors to get telephones issued in the names of their children. But this defeats, whatever pointless objective there may have been in mandating a linkage of Aadhaar with everything. 
 
That senior citizens are not even being given SIMs by telecom operators like Airtel is a terrifying new development that disempowers senior citizens! 
 
According to a media report  a 73-year old has taken the issue of failure of biometrics to the Supreme Court of India and UIDAI has been asked to find a solution. However, in practice there is no clarity as yet, while instances of senior citizens being harassed continue. 
 
Can Aadhar identification lead to disempowerment of senior citizens who prefer to be independent or may have nobody to take care of them? It is probably something that senior citizen organisations may want to take up more agressively with the UIDAI and the government. 
 
A quick look at the Complaints Board of the National Consumer Complaints Forum shows hundreds of angry and helpless consumers reporting issues with fingerprints. People facing problems may want to add their complaints here https://www.complaintboard.in/complaints-reviews/aadhar-card-l231003.html
 
I had gone to change my number from one service provider to Airtel. Now I wonder if it was a worthwhile move?
 
(Dnyanada Deshpande is a former journalist and now works as Strategy Head at the World Resources Institute.) 
 
 
Comments
V.Krishnamoorthy
4 years ago
I am a disabled man aged 78. I got my phone linked to my wife and I am using my wifes phone linked to Aadhaar. Unless the apex court intervenes to help the senior citizens and disabled there will be no remedy for all our cries. The government thinks all the Indians are terrorists and every day issues one order which we are unable to follow. Self and some of my friends do not want to have our investments beyond 2018 and have a savings bank account to draw our pension and spend it.
kapil bajaj
4 years ago
Good article, but poorly edited.
Example: "If your service provider rejects you a mobile SIM, who would come to their recue?"
Should be: "If your service provider 'denies' you a mobile SIM, who would come to 'your rescue'?"
Silloo Marker
4 years ago
Unless a senior citizen is certified as a medical case (like Alzheimer's) which leaves that person with almost no capacity to comprehend and respond, there is just no justification in refusing to issue a SIM card for a mobile or for that matter, refuse any service he/she may want or require.
Jagannath Adavi
4 years ago
I fully agree with what Dnyanada Deshpande has said. On the limited issue of linking Aadhaar with mobile number, has the process of linking via OTP (and not fingerprint verification) started?
sohan modak
Replied to Jagannath Adavi comment 4 years ago
If, as claimed by the Government, Aadhaar is the unique identity, why do you nee an OTP? that is exactly what tells one that Aadhaar is not a u niquje iodentity. Check it out and don't fall top the fool's paradise created by Arun Jaitley and Ravi Shankar Prasad
sohan modak
4 years ago
Demanding Aadhaar linkage for mobile telephones is contempt of Supreme court orders. Only pds schemes require the linkage, all other linkages such as MFs, Stocks, banks mobile phones are illegal at present o at least till March 31st, 2018.
Pramod Bhave
4 years ago
I am 74 and have faced problem for Aadhaar linking from Idea.
Initially the daily reminder made me to go to the nearest vendorin model colony Pune, in 1st.week Nov.That time I was told that the system is. not functioning.I went again two days ago and found the the print can not be taken and that I should go to another entralised branch.
I have linked my Aadhaar and pan for the Income tax,the banks,the mutual funds online.The telecom has my pan card at the time of issue of sim.so why they not have online live software?
Another logic is that if the Govt has accepted the pan & Aadhaar link for one document what are we required to run for r dry other agency to have it done independently?
Nawalkishore Shrivastava
4 years ago
Senior citizens may be exempted from mamdatory linking of Aadhaar with Banks and Telcos.
Radhakrishnan Subbiah
4 years ago
Airtel's high handedness in dealing with its customers is a given. And they do it shamelessly and go scot free, as the Govt turns the other way. Net result both Airtel and Govt seem to be bent on harassing the common man, especially the older ones. Such people harassing entities need to be taken to task so stricly that others will not even think of such practices. On one hand Govt wants to link everything under the sun to Aadhaar and on the other hand doesn't care two hoots about ensuring failsafe systems to do that.
Net result people are forced to run from pillar to post, wasting time and energy. Is there a way to make these entities pay heavily for such unnecessary harassing of the common man ?
V.Krishnamoorthy
4 years ago
Why insurance policies are not issued for people age more than 60 in many cases? In the elements of Insurance , I have read that even a man on death bed canbe given a term insurance as the insurer can quote his premium. sa for example if a man aged more than 100 years and asks for a cover of say Rsone lac, the premium can be quotes as Rs.1.20lacs single premium. This is just for argument. o deny a sim card is meaningless.
Prasun Sengupta
4 years ago
This is completely unacceptable and Airtel must be held accountable for the action it has taken against the employee. Secondly Airtel (and other companies) must come clean on if and whether there is an age limit to issue SIMs. Thirdly surely there are simpler means of verifying Aadhar - after the biometric testing and electronic recording why do we have to manually verify our phone numbers ? For instance all the telecom companies have our photographs and they should be allowed to verify with the central authorities. People have been harassed and the vendors can not cope. And we have all been spending time with banks, mutual funds, financial institutions in this verification process. I do hope hwen I die my heirs wont be asked to provide a self-attested death certificate!
Milind Nadkarni
4 years ago
One gets a feeling of discrimination against the senior citizens. My own experience at Vodafone is similar to this, though the experiences vary from gallery (showroom) to gallery. The long wait, callous attitude, being looked at as problematic customers (if the fingerprints do not match) etc. looks like Govt. has put onus on citizens to prove that they are "registered" in the UIDAI database. Pathetic implementation and unnecessary trouble for every citizen when the crooks get multiple SIM cards on the basis of fake documentation easily.
Ramesh I
4 years ago
After repeated intimations by SMS from Airtel a couple of months back, I visited their store nearby for linking my mobile no with my Aadhar as mandated by the Govt. However, I had to wait for an hour (not adequate seating facility so had to stand for most of the hour) just to await my turn. Finally, when my Token No was called out and I reached the counter, I realized that for some strange reason, the Airtel Store had alloted just one counter for Aadhar linking as well as documentation for new connections (though new connection seekers were being attended to by FIVE other counters). That explained the inordinate delay in my case. Despite my protest about this callous manner of treating customers, the staff didn't apologise nor gave any valid reason for the same. Though I completed my Aadhar linking in a minute, am disappointed that I had to wait for an hour just for my turn - for a ONE MINUTE task. I can imagine the plight of senior citizens having to go through such an ordeal, so welcome the Govt's / TRAI's step to enable online Aadhar linking / re-KYC for senior citizens, which should be enabled for all other mobile no users as well.
Milind Nadkarni
Replied to Ramesh I comment 4 years ago
My experience at Vodafone is similar except it has taken 90 min of wait in a crowded room where only one representative was assigned for linking with Aadhar no.
D S Ranga Rao
4 years ago
May we know how many MPs and MLAs have linked their accounts and all other transactions with the AADHAR? Will the government declare the names of defaulters?
Gopalakrishnan T V
4 years ago
The difficulties faced by senior citizens, sick persons , handicapped and persons suffering from Alzheimer are unfortunately not factored into by any of the service providers is the ground reality. A very senior citizen suffering from Alzheimer admitted into an old age home is asked to produce AAdhar card which he is not able to get for reasons beyond his control. To get his pittance pension, he was asked to produce his life certificate and this his relative somehow managed to obtain by personally taking the Bank Manager to his old age home and getting his thump impression in the presence of officials attached to the old age home. This was done after spending lot of money and running after the manager
for several days .He was however kind enough to help at last. The authorities in their enthusiasm to link aadhar to many of the transactions are seen to ignore the practical difficulties the sick , old and handicapped persons undergo and the money they have to spend to get the work done. The society being corrupt and eroding values very fast, the people experience lots of practical difficulties to comply with the requirements of the authorities and the service providers either exploit the situation or give all sorts of excuses not to help the needy particularly senior citizens and sick persons of all kinds. The situation is getting disgusted every passing day and the service providers are becoming harsh and unsympathetic towards all including senior citizens and sick persons. There is no one to hear the complaints and come to the rescue of the hapless citizens. All have no access to approach Money Life and others to seek help is also a harsh reality and the authorities should have the mindset to understand the difficulties the people undergo and provided the needed relief appropriately.
Sailesh Mishra
4 years ago
Airtel India you should be prosecuted for Elder Abuse as you deny mobile service to Senior Citizens.. your personal says “we don't issue SIM cards to people over 75 because they die soon”..

Oh OMG... This is discrimination against Aged.... This is Ageism... Elder Abuse by Service provider... Elders are human and they are part of society this discrimination is against the basic human right to survive... As telephone is basic necessary and it can't be controlled or it can't be stopped /denied to be used by Senior Citizens just because of the age. Government, TRAI, Court should take suo moto action on this telephone company provider to refuse giving service to an Senior Citizens.

We at Silver Innings opposed and Protest this move by Airtel. Money life should act on this complaint and we will support it for Elder Right.
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