Aadhaar seeding scam takes root

An engineering student in Jharkhand, with the help of a banking agent, linked his Aadhaar number with the savings account of a college to embezzle more than Rs 11 lakh in 30 days, exposing a serious threat to the unique ID seeding that the Narendra Modi government at the Centre is so aggressively promoting.

By A.S.R.P. Mukesh in Ranchi
  • Published 2.09.17
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Ranchi, Sept. 1: An engineering student in Jharkhand, with the help of a banking agent, linked his Aadhaar number with the savings account of a college to embezzle more than Rs 11 lakh in 30 days, exposing a serious threat to the unique ID seeding that the Narendra Modi government at the Centre is so aggressively promoting.

Police, who chanced upon the fraud after United Bank of India (UBI) lodged an FIR yesterday, are hunting for Rohit Kumar Pandit (22), a native of Karma in Koderma and a BTech student of a private college in Ranchi, and Om Prakash Singh, a banking correspondent of UBI's Jhumri Telaiya branch in Koderma, 160km from the state capital.

Although an isolated case reported so far, bankers told this newspaper that wrong Aadhaar cards being seeded with other plum bank accounts could not be ruled out. They added that given the pressure on banks from the government to achieve Aadhaar targets, such frauds could be commonplace.

UBI's Jhumri Telaiya branch manager Abhishek Kumar said the siphoning could have been facilitated by an operational glitch, but a high-level probe had been ordered to find out how the Aadhaar number of an individual was seeded with that of a college account.

"Around Rs 11.33 lakh was withdrawn in instalments from the savings account of JJ College (in Koderma) in the past month. The college lodged a complaint with us after receiving the account statement. From our end, we lodged a named FIR after preliminary probe," Kumar said.

According to the branch manager, banking correspondents/agents are not on the payroll of any bank, but are outsourced through agencies.

A person in a rural or semi-urban area whose Aadhaar number has been linked to his/her account can approach a banking correspondent (instead of a bank) to withdraw a maximum of Rs 10,000 using biometric scans.

"Besides a salary of around Rs 3,000-4,000, the agents get commission on withdrawals, Aadhaar seeding, opening of accounts, loans, etc. Their job is to visit remote areas where banks can't physically go and help people," the manager said.

The Jhumri Telaiya branch has two such banking correspondents, one of them Om Prakash.

Another UBI official said it was, however, not yet clear how Rs 11 lakh was withdrawn within a span of 30 days when the daily limit was Rs 10,000 (through banking correspondents).

Jhumri Telaiya thana in-charge Kameshwar Prasad couldn't give details of the IPC sections under which the FIR had been lodged against Rohit and Om Prakash, but said they had launched a manhunt for the duo.

Prasad Joshi, general manager of State Level Bankers' Committee, an apex outfit of all banks in Jharkhand, said wrong Aadhaar seeding could only happen through "human intervention" and could remain undetected for days.

"The National Payment Corporation of India (NPCI), where all the data are stored, only shows the bank account and UID numbers and no names. So, once an Aadhaar number is tagged with an account, it can be difficult to say if it is genuine or fake. It is better to update mobile phone and email details with your bank for timely withdrawal alerts," he said.

Principal of JJ College J.K. Prasad could not be contacted from Ranchi because his phone remained switched off.