AIRTEL is no doubt the leading mobile service provider in India. However when Airtel swept several awards in the recent DSCI Excellence Awards 2017, several eyebrows were raised. It was clear that the process used by DSCI to confer the awards appeared flawed to say the least.
One of the recipients of the award was “Airtel Payment Bank” which got a “Special Jury Recognition Award” for “Best Practices in Payments Bank”.
The awards were announced in the summit held between 13th and 15th of December.
On 16th December, as if on cue, UIDAI suspended Airtel Payments Bank’s eKYC license because it had misused the process to open Payment Bank accounts for customers who wanted to link their mobile accounts to Aadhaar without obtaining proper “Informed consent” from the customers. The opening of such accounts had a financial benefit for the Bank since it automatically transferred the Gas subsidies to these accounts. According to the report, more than 23 lakh customers had such accounts opened and over Rs 47 crores were credited to these accounts without the knowledge and consent of the customers.
If there was a Data Protection Act in India, Airtel would have been fined hundreds of crores in penalty for violating the privacy of 23 lakh customers. But DSCI, considered this organization fit for an “Excellence Award”!!!
Apart from this, Airtel also got “DSCI Excellence Award for Best Security Practices in Organization” where Airtel was classified as a “Critical Information Infrastructure”. DSCI Excellence award for Privacy in User industry also went to Bharti Airtel.
It was not surprising to note that the Jury panel had representatives from Airtel who could have directly or indirectly influenced the selection of the winners of the award.
Apart from the Global CIO of Airtel being in the panel, even the Jury Chair Mr Paramod Bhasin the chairman of Clix Capital has a partnership with Airtel to launch a digital payment platform.
DSCI may say that these persons have recused themselves from the selection of winners in the categroy in which Airtel was a winner. This is not a convincing excuse since Airtel was winner in 2 of the four categories and also got a special jury award which means that the Chairperson should not have participated in selections of 3 of the 5 categories. HDFC Director was also in the panel and it also won an award. CIO f Mahindra and Mahindra wa in the panel and Tech Mahindra won an award. There was only one jury member who did not have any conflict and that was Mr Nandakumar Sarvade of RBI.
The Jury panel constitution itself was inappropriate, though this is not a comment on the achievements and skills of each of the jury members. Conflict of interest is another matter and the Jury panel did not exhibit that it had no conflict.
As public know, Airtel is known for its sharp business practices and has been often accused of committing billing frauds. It was also accused of introducing tracking codes when its users browse through mobile (Refer Article Airtel Does a Maggi). This incident should have resulted in the prosecution of Airtel under Section 66 of ITA 2000/8 but the law enforcement agencies failed to take note and TRAI looked the otherway.
It was therefore unthinkable that Airtel would get “Excellence” awards from DSCI on Privacy and Security. If they have, then it reflects more on the ability of the award giving organisation on framing its policies and selection of Jury.
We also observe that Axis bank which is another notorious Bank known for insider frauds and lack of security was a finalist in one of the categories where as they should have been rejected at the eligibility level itself.
These awards therefore represent a complete farce and if DSCI has to retain its reputation, they need to recall the award granted to Airtel particularly the special jury award given to Airtel Payment Bank.
However it is unlikely that DSCI will have the courage of conviction to recall the award. I urge them to prove me wrong.