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With stores shut, no new mobile connections or SIMs being issued

Issuance of new mobile connections has come to a complete halt during the lockdown, with retail stores of telecom companies being shut, thereby making it impossible to submit physical documents for completion of mandatory verification processes.

Stores of mobile companies such as Reliance Jio, Bharti Airtel, Vodafone Idea, BSNL and also several small service providers have been shut since they are considered “non-essential”, sources told TOI on Monday.

The move, among other things, is likely to have an impact on the delivery of coronavirus subsidies and benefits to the poor, since many of these schemes are linked to verification/confirmation over cellphones. People, looking to get new SIM cards issued, are finding it difficult to do so.

Around 25 lakh new mobile connections are normally issued every month, according to sources.

The issue of fresh connections has halted. Something needs to be done soon as the country is battling a pandemic and there are many who will need mobile connectivity,” Rajan Mathews, director-general of telecom industry body, COAI (Cellular Operators Association of India), said.

The COAI has already taken up the matter with the government. “We have approached telecom secretary Anshu Prakash and highlighted the issue. Simultaneously, we are working with mobile operators and have worked out an online process that will help meet the KYC norms specified by the department of telecom (DoT). The government now needs to take a decision so that the plan can be rolled out,” Mathews said.

The government is also looking into the matter and trying to put in place a process soon, sources said.

The COAI’s plan envisages a “paperless activation process”, Mathews said, adding that provisions have been made to digitally provide documents regarding proof of identity and proof of address. However, a prospective customer will need to have an alternate number to complete the process. Once the documents are processed, a customer will be delivered an inactive SIM, which will be activated only after its number is keyed into the website of the mobile operator and an OTP is received at the alternate number.

“On successful validation of the OTP, the customer will be informed via an SMS on the alternate number to perform tele-verification with a five-digit pin. Following this, the SIM card will be activated,” Mathews said.

Meanwhile, thousands of foreigners whose visas have expired but are stranded in India due to cancellation of flights have lost their mobile connections. Considering the need for mobility during the current crisis, operators have sought clarification from the department of telecom (DoT) whether the connections can be extended.

“It is a crucial issue. Many foreigners have been stranded here and want to stay in touch with their families, or embassies/ missions, or their governments,” Mathews said.

―Times of India

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