Shimla (Sept 27): Investigation carried out by Himachal Live on the overall working of the mobile companies in Himachal Pradesh have brought shocking revelations. As per report in Medianama there were 65,86,567 connections in Himachal Pradesh. The report in Medianama mentioned there was a decrease of 1,83,157 connections in the month of January 2011 when compared to the figures of December 2010 which stood at a whooping 67,69,724 connections.
These figures were mind blowing when the official population figure of the state stood at 60,77,248 as per Himachal Government website.
Amazed at the massive figures of mobile connections active in Himachal Pradesh we decided to look into the figures but stumbled on something else – Identity Theft.
We were shocked to learn that identity theft of unaware Himachalis is fuelling the so called number game of mobile companies in Himachal Pradesh.
Number Game of Mobile Companies
You will be astonished to know that there may be multiple connections in the name of an unsuspecting subscriber without his/her knowledge. First player in the Number Game is an outsourced external agency which does the work of verifying subscriber details. The agency in Shimla handles work of at least 6-7 mobile companies.
The subscriber enrolment form (SEF) along with the identity documents submitted at the time of purchasing a mobile connection is scanned by this agency for safe keeping. This agency is supposed to call on customers and verify the details.
The second player in the Great Mobile Number Game is a distributor of SIM cards of these companies. These distributors are offered targets and incentives on monthly basis for the number of SIM cards activated. The target / incentive varies month to month. Where as it could be 3000 activations during a particular month it gets reduced to 1000-1500 activations in winter months. The incentives too vary accordingly. While it can be Rs. 15-25 in a peak month it goes up to Rs. 30-40 per activation in winter months.
The number game starts
While the distributor has a fair idea of how much real activations he can do in a month, the balance target is achieved by doing false activations. Once the SIM is activated the paper work needs to be completed of such falsely activated SIM. It is here the SEF agency comes into picture.
During our investigation, it came as a shock as a source told us that employees of the SEF agency sell identity documents to the distributors.\
This is done very smartly. Suppose a distributor of a mobile company A wants to activate 2000 connections. The SEF people sell him subscriber details of mobile company B. The details are sold for Rs. 3-10 per subscriber depending upon the urgency of the distributor. This cycle is repeated every month for all companies.
The whole process is very simple indeed. Since the entire details are scanned at the SEF agency level, the employee copies the data to a pen drive and hand over to the distributor. The data includes the original form where the photo of the subscriber is attached. The distributor then prints a copy of the photograph and other address identification etc and a new connection is activated without any knowledge of the unsuspecting subscriber.
If you are thinking copying 2000 forms is a big task, the distributor has to print 65 forms per day. Printing pictures is again no big deal. Software like Adobe has made it super easy!
The profit margins for the distributor are huge. By investing a mere Rs. 3-10 per connection he earns Rs. 20-40 upon achieving the ‘target’. No wonder Himachal Pradesh has the highest mobile density!! And all this is done well under the knowledge of the mobile companies. I will come to that later.
Other disturbing fact which came in our investigation was SEF agency is not the only one selling personal details of the public. A source told us that photocopy shops and photo studios too are involved in selling the details.
Normally people go to photocopy shops for taking out Xerox of the address proof. These photocopy shop owners make an extra copy which they later sell to the distributors.
Same goes with the photographers. All passport size photos are now taken in the digital format. These are sold to the distributors.
What happens to the activated SIM?
Majority of the activated SIM are dumped in the market. There is a huge demand of SIM cards among migrant workers in the state who cannot fulfil the required paper work to obtain one . Lakhs of Nepali nationals, workers from Bihar, UP, Jharkhand and Rajasthan are staying in Himachal Pradesh. These are the target customers of these SIM. Retailers are told they can sell the SIM cards without any documents as the formality has already been done at the distributor level.
This poses a greater challenge for the police as no one knows how many of these fraudulently activated SIM has made it’s way to criminal gangs and anti social elements. Imagine the harassment to the unaware subscriber when the police would come knocking on the doors after the crime has been committed. This is the reality of the future when personal details are on sale and freely available in the state.
Are mobile companies involved?
Of course… from head to toe. They are the one who keep pressurizing the distributors for false activation to bloat their numbers. In fact there was a case with a leading mobile company in Himachal Pradesh, when the CEO and the Sales head were transferred and two smaller employees were thrown out of the company. A Dharamshala based distributor complained against pressure for false SIM activation. While it was the top management which kept pressurizing for SIM activations, lower level employees were asked to leave the company. The higher ups were simply transferred out of the state.
The modus operandi of the mobile company is that they feign ignorance and put the entire blame on the distributor for any wrong doing. But the fact of the matter is it is these companies who ask the distributors to activate SIM by whatever means.
What is the Police doing?
Police is fed up with the entire mobile business. In fact so fed up is the police that last Friday an Area Head and a Territory Manager of a leading mobile company in Shimla were arrested and locked behind the bars for a night. While probing a blind murder case of a lady in Chamrog area of Shimla, the police investigation came to a dead end to the mobile phone angle of the deceased.
A police team visited the distributor of this particular company and found open SIM cards lying in the office. Upon questioning, the distributor spilled the beans and told the police that company officials had asked him to activate the SIM.
The distributor could not produce the required paper work of these activated SIM. The police later arrested the two company officials. They were released on bail the next day.
One interesting aspect of the whole affair was that though these mobile company officials were arrested on Friday, none of the mainstream newspapers gave coverage to the news. Even such Hindi dailies who don’t fail to report about a dog giving birth to puppies on The Mall, chose to remain silent.
After all working in a top notch company has it’s own perks. And less said the better about Himachal media now controlled by outsiders.