Raiganj, Nov. 26: Two years after 26/11 SIM cards still continue to fly off the shelves on the basis of fake documents, with retailers providing the identity proofs.
No that the vendors act surreptitiously: the sales take place out in the open in proper shops, not in some dingy alley. What the customers need, like in all underhand dealings, is some extra cash. Even that is as nominal as Rs 300-350. A legal prepaid cellphone connection comes for Rs 100-150.
Enquiries by The Telegraph at a mobile phone store in the Mohanbati area of town revealed that the owner gave a free SIM card to customers buying an expensive handset. When this correspondent said, he didn’t need a handset but only SIM cards, the shopkeeper promptly brought out SIMs of several companies, explaining the talktime plans of each of them.
The correspondent then said he did not have any identity or address proof. At that point, the store owner raised his voice, probably for the benefit of other customers around, and said SIMs could not be given without address proof. However, he gestured with his eyes to wait.
When the other customers left, the owner called a store attendant who took out a file containing photocopies of voter identity cards and passport-size photographs. He then proceeded to clip one of the photographs to a copy of a voter’s card of his choice and filled up the SIM card form. The name on the SIM form was the same as that on the photocopy of the voter ID.
“The SIM card is yours for Rs 200 extra,” the shop owner said. Following the terror attacks in Mumbai on November 26, 2008, two SIM cards used by Ajmal Kasab and his accomplices were traced to Delhi and Calcutta. The government then imposed stricter norms for prepaid SIM card sales. One of the 26/11 SIMs were traced to an ID card issued by the ministry of urban development in the name of a certain Suresh Prasad. A ministry spokesperson later told the court that the ID card had been forged.
The shop in Mohanbati is not the only one flouting rules. A number of other stores in town had a stock of photocopies of voter and PAN cards. Enquiries revealed that the photocopies were of genuine identity and address proofs submitted by customers in good faith.
“We do not extend this facility (of issuing SIMs without address proof) to each and every person but only to those whom we know personally,” a shop owner, hurriedly explained.
“There are stringent telecommunications ministry rules stating that identity proofs are to be gone through before a SIM is sold to someone. I can only say, God help the retailers who are breaking this law. Under the law, their licences can be cancelled. They can even be jailed,” said the executive vice-president of a mobile service provider with a pan-India presence.
North Dinajpur police chief Milan Das said his department could act only if there was a specific complaint. “If a SIM card is issued to a person and the documents belong to someone else, the real troublemakers will never be spotted because according to the papers they don’t even exist,” he said.
At a crime conference in October in Raiganj, representatives of several mobile phone companies were summoned by the police and told about the problem. “Now, it is up to them to check what their vendors are doing and then get back to us if they need help,” Das said. The general manager of the BSNL’s North Dinajpur and South Dinajpur circle, Debashis Sarkar, admitted: “There is no provision to run a check on pre-paid users. We have to depend on our franchisees and retailers. They are supposed to do the verification.”