On June 1, the government made it mandatory for bank account holders to link their accounts to Aadhaar numbers through a notification amending the Prevention of Money Laundering Act. This amendment also specifies that any transaction above Rs 50,000 will now require furnishing of both Aadhaar and permanent account number.

“Provided that the clients already having an account based relationship with reporting entities prior to date of this notification, the client shall submit the Aadhaar number and PAN by December 31, 2017,” the notification states adding that those who do not have an Aadhaar number must produce the proof of their application for the same.

However, much before this amendment, banks were already pushing Aadhaar linkage using dubious claims.

For instance, IDBI bank sent emails in March to its savings account customers saying that Aadhaar linkage was “mandatory” for transactions.

“Aadhaar Linkage with saving account is compulsory for receiving/making payments through many banking channels,” the email read.

Other banks, meanwhile, insisted on it using various means such as offering rewards and discounts (HDFC Bank), blocking net banking interface (SBI) for some people and at other times, “encouraging” customers to link Aadhaar numbers “as soon as possible”.

A senior banker on condition of anonymity told this reporter in April that banks were anticipating that the government would make Aadhaar mandatory for bank account holders and were linking Aadhaar merely to pre-empt a surprise circular.

With the amendment, they have been proved right and the banks which decided to start the process of re-verifying their customers through Aadhaar now stand at an advantage as compared to their peers.

More than 52 crore individual saving accounts have already been linked with Aadhaar, according to an answer provided by Minister of State for Finance Santosh Kumar Gangwar in March, 2017. This is almost half the number of total active accounts in the country, as estimated by the government, Gangwar said in his answer.

Since March, however, many more accounts would have been seeded with Aadhaar as banks went on an overdrive to do E-KYCs through Aadhaar number for existing as well as new clients. Axis Bank, for instance, organised campaigns to link Aadhaar numbers of its account holders while HDFC Bank sent repeated reminders to people through SMS.

Banks have time upto December 31 to link all accounts with Aadhaar. Otherwise, the accounts will be deactivated, the notification states.

The government, on its part, however, has always insisted that Aadhaar linkage will be based on customers’ consent even as it accepted that it was encouraging banks to do so.

“Banks are committed to seed savings bank accounts, inclduing Pradhan Mantri Jan Dhan Yojana accounts with the account holder’s Aadhaar number based on the account holder’s consent,” Gangwar stated in his March response.

While this seems in contravention to the Aadhaar Act 2016 which provides that in absences of Aadhaar number, the government is required to provide the welfare, scheme or service to the person on producing other valid proofs of identity.

Meanwhile, the Reserve Bank of India which is the regulator for the banking sector specifies on its website that no one kind of identity proof can be made mandatory for opening bank accounts.

  “The Government of India has notified six documents as ‘Officially Valid Documents’ (OVDs) for the purpose of producing proof of identity. These six documents are Passport, Driving Licence, Voters’ Identity Card, PAN Card, Aadhaar Card issued by UIDAI and NREGA Job Card. You need to submit any one of these documents as proof of identity.”  

— RBI Know Your Customer Guidelines