New Government Portal 'Sanchar Saathi' Offers Mobile Phone Owners, A Suite Of Tools — How Useful Are They? A Reality Check

New Government Portal 'Sanchar Saathi' Offers Mobile Phone Owners, A Suite Of Tools — How Useful Are They? A Reality Check

by Anand Parthasarathy - Monday, May 22, 2023 12:11 PM IST
New Government Portal 'Sanchar Saathi' Offers Mobile Phone Owners, A Suite Of Tools — How Useful Are They? A Reality CheckMobile phone lost or stolen? Sanchar Saathi will help you block it — till you recover it. (Graphic compiled from images at Sanchar Saathi site)
  • Telecom department has launched a new portal, Sanchar Saathi, to help Indian subscribers keep track of the mobile phones listed against their name and weed out unrecognised numbers.

    It also helps block phones which are lost or stolen.

    We check out the services and evaluate how useful they are.

The 'Sanchar Saathi' portal formally launched by Union Minister for Communications, Ashwini Vaishnaw, last week, has some useful features  that will help mobile phone owners, check whether their KYC credentials are being misused. 

Further, it will keep track of all their connections and block any of them if the handset is lost or stolen.

The portal is essentially a combination of two new services:

  • TAFCOP (Telecom Analytics for Fraud Management and Consumer Protection) which allows owners to verify all the SIM connections registered on their names, cancel old (and now unused) connections or report any,  about which they have no knowledge ie they could be the result of  fraudulent usage of their Know Your Customer (KYC) credentials. 

  • CEIR (Central Equipment Identity Register) which is useful for reporting a phone when it is stolen or lost and blocking its usage, till — hopefully — it is recovered

Though the official release says the Telecom Minister launched the portal  on 16 May, it also mentions on the site that over 4.8 lakh phones have been blocked and about half of them have been recovered using  CEIR;  over 85,000 requests under TAFCOP have been received and just under  3,000 have been resolved. 

Presumably these services have been available for a while.

So, it won’t be too early to do a reality check of how these services work in practice and how simple or complicated the process is. Here goes:

TAFCOP: A useful reminder

With the passage of time, few of us know how many SIMs we have bought in our name, using our KYC proof.

Some SIMs and the associated handsets may no longer be with us — for perfectly innocuous reasons: In the early days of mobile phones around the turn of the century, 2000-01, the process of buying a phone with a SIM was not so structured or strict — and  we gifted ready-to-use phones  to appupan or dadoo, or daadi maa or other aged relatives, using our credentials, without a second thought. 

The TAFCOP service at the 'Sanchar Saathi' portal helps to remind us of all such phones listed against an individual.

Entering one of your mobile numbers and providing the OTP that will be sent to that phone, will generate a list of all numbers on record against our name. If there are SIMs and hence numbers,  we cannot account for as having bought, the portal makes it easy to state “not my number” or “not required”.

The telecom department will launch a verification process for such numbers against your KYC.

If there is no response after one month, it will direct the concerned service provider to bar outgoing calls after thirty days and incoming calls after 45 days.

Then and only then, in the absence of any response, will it order the  blocking the number. In other words, any small error in ownership or KYC can be rectified by the holder of that number. Any subscriber is allowed to own up to nine SIMs.

I have to report that my own search turned up four numbers, one of which I could not account for. I am still in the process of checking.

Some mobile Internet data plans — the type we carry on a USB stick to plug into our laptops — came in the early years, with a SIM to insert in the stick (and it had an associated mobile number). 

I am not sure if the unaccounted number against my name could be one connected to a data service that I subsequently cancelled. I’m still checking. 

Blocking a lost or stolen phone

The CEIR section of the Sanchar Saathi portal has quite a few useful tools. Do you know the all-important IMEI number of your SIM — the International Mobile Equipment Identity — that uniquely identifies your handset? 

Yes, it is printed on the box (which you may have  thrown away long ago). Yes, you can go to “Settings” on the handset and look in the “About Phone” section. 

But there are millions of users who may be challenged to do anything beyond the basic functions of the phone. For them, the portal has helpful hints on how to locate the IMEI number of your phone (2 IMEI numbers if your phone takes 2 SIMs) by dialing *#06# from your phone.

If the status shown against the IMEI number or numbers is "OK”, you’re good. If the phone has been reported missing, it will say so.

This allows buyers, especially of pre-owned phones, to check the IMEI number and confirm that the phone has not been reported as lost or stolen.

When it comes to blocking a stolen or lost phone, the site has sadly not simplified the process but merely detailed the existing system which is extremely cumbersome to say the least. Take a deep breath  before reading on:

Here is what the relevant section advises if you want to block your phone “through a form submitted on this website”:

  • File a report with the police, and keep a copy of the report.

  • Get a duplicate SIM Card for the lost number from your telecom service provider (eg, Airtel, Jio, Voda/Idea, BSNL, MTNL etc.). This is essential because you will need to provide this as the primary mobile number (OTP will be sent on this number) while submitting the request for blocking your IMEI.
    Note: As per TRAI's regulation, SMS facility on re-issued SIMs is enabled after 24 hours of SIM activation.

  • Get your documents ready - a copy of the police report and an Identity Proof must be provided. You can also provide the mobile purchase invoice.

  • Fill out the request registration form for blocking the IMEI of lost/stolen phone, and attach the required documents. Click here to go to the form.

  • After submitting the form, you will be given a Request ID. The same can be used for checking the status of your request and for unblocking the IMEI in future.

Surely the outstanding tech talent that the Telecom Ministry commands, can come up with a less Kafkaesque process!  People tend to  panic when they lose a phone with all their contacts  and other sensitive information.  

How has Sanchar Saathi made things any better for them, if it is merely restating this bureaucratic rigmarole, where so much of the information is duplicated.

For example, the form requires one to enter the police complaint number and also upload the actual complaint. Is it impossible for a police system to uniquely identify a complaint across India and provide all the submitted details.

The system requires you to get a duplicate SIM for the only reason that an OTP will come on that number.

I know from personal experience, getting a duplicate SIM is half a day’s work including a visit to a service provider’s customer centre — and activating it usually takes another 3-6 hours.   

Once an owner has established that he or she is  the custodian of a lost or stolen  phone, surely  the system can accept an alternative  number  as the temporary contact? 

At the launch event, Mr Vaishnaw also revealed  another innovation by the Telecom Department: ASTR (Artificial Intelligence and Facial Recognition powered Solution for Telecom SIM Subscriber Verification). 

To obviate mobile connections against fake documents, they have developed  an  AI-powered tool which harnesses various techniques of facial recognition and data analytics to distinguish a genuine subscriber from a fraudulent one.

This is cutting edge innovation for an earthy citizen-centred application.  Challenge these  skilled engineers to come up with a quick painless process to block a phone without sending the owner into a chakravyuha of  redundant procedures.  

Right now, this particular aspect of Sanchar needs a more devoted Saathi.

Anand Parthasarathy is managing director at Online India Tech Pvt Ltd and a veteran IT journalist who has written about the Indian technology landscape for more than 15 years for The Hindu.

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