Aircel Bankruptcy: 8.5 crore customers awarded a THENGA for their trust

Last Updated: Mon, Mar 12, 2018 16:40 hrs
Aircel Bankruptcy Cartoon

A mobile phone is not a mere connection; it's an identity. From something as life-saving as gas connections to registering properties, paying taxes, ensuring livelihood through Aadhar, and to something as trivial as booking movie tickets, signing-up for various websites, the phone number has become a true identity, if not just a means of communication.

And for nearly 8.5 crore customers of Aircel, that very identity is lost.

Aircel, India's sixth largest telecom operator, has officially filed for bankruptcy. A quick google search says bankrupt is defined as "loss in a particular good quality". Going by that definition, Aircel must have been bankrupt for quite a long time. The services remained spotty, balance-sheets were running red, and employees catering to irate customers were already having a mess of time. The official declaration has only confirmed that the fate of 5000 employees is indeed in the dark.

The situation was bad, but for legal purposes, the company only filed for bankruptcy on February 28, 2018. Aircel filed papers in the National Company Law Tribunal, after almost a week of intense speculation.

Having filed for bankruptcy, Aircel's responsibility is finished. Aircel considers its responsibility of tending to its dues as null and void. In the week of intense speculation, company officials were quizzed on the bankruptcy outcomes. What would happen to the 8.5 crore customers, 5000+ employees and lenders who believed in the plans of Aircel? Well, the telecom company has accorded them the thenga (thumb). (Thenga in Hindi refers to showing the thumb, in Tamil, it refers to a Coconut. Aircel has shown the thumb and not a coconut).


A file photo of an Aircel store

What lenders, 5000 job-less employees and 8.5 crore customers do with the thenga is left to wild imagination. But Aircel is not paying, nor has it clarified on providing work-benefits, neither is Aircel is offering a replacement to hapless customers. We are not saying this. This is what Aircel itself has admitted.

The company's senior Business Head K Sankara Narayanan was quoted by The Hindu as saying that "customers are advised to make alternative arrangements to stay connected."

Angry customers, have taken to twitter, the best possible ranting tool available in democratic situations, to air their anguish. The only question customers ask is how do they make alternative arrangements, when the least possible network to port is not working?

Customers are willing to pardon Aircel and move on. But even to port their numbers, they need basic network services to initiate a porting request.

In case you are lucky enough and getting a few bars on your phone, you may try doing the following to port:

  • Send PORT YOUR 10 DIGIT Mobile Number to 1900. For example if your Aircel number is 9xxx9xxx9x the message will be PORT 9xxx9xxx9x.
  • A pop-up will confirm your decision to port. In a few minutes, you will receive a Unique Port Code (UPC). Save this number for future correspondence.
  • Visit the nearest outlets of Airtel, Idea, Vodafone, Reliance Jio, BSNL or MTNL (according to your choice), and choose a service that allows porting.
  • You will be asked your address proof, ID-card proof and the UPC. Once you have provided these, you can start using your new SIM, and services.

The above step works in most cases, but has failed in the case of Aircel, since there is no network. Aircel on February 14 said that it had partnered with BSNL for network. But users from Bengaluru especially HSR Layout complained that the BSNL network remained as messy as Aircel's. Moreover, Aircel hasn't paid interconnection fee to Idea and Vodafone. Debts with other network service providers have also run high. The Malaysian owner of the company is unwilling to infuse additional investments.

The Telecom Regulatory Authority, the telecom regulator in India, has said that it is concerned over customers' issues. As a market regulator, it has ordered that for users' benefit, they can port from Aircel to a telecom operator of their choice in a 90 day time-frame. The TRAI has suggested Aircel not to reject any porting-out requests from subscribers who's activation of mobile number "is of less than 90 days".

But, in most regular instances, an aggrieved customer can opt to clear his dues and switch services within 90 days. How different is TRAI's gesture from the current market order? It would make a world of difference if the regulator could ask other healthy service providers to offer network, although briefly to stranded customers of Aircel. Aircel customers could latch onto Jio, Airtel, Vodafone, or Idea and get their identities back.

This move could repose a great deal of trust with the telecom regulator.

Aircel's 8.5 crore customers are spread across the following circles:

  • North: Punjab, Uttar Pradesh (East), Jammu and Kashmir,
  • East: West Bengal & Kolkata, Odisha,
  • West: Rajasthan
  • South: Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Kerala,

Aircel has already shut down services and licensing areas such as Himachal Pradesh, Haryana, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra and Uttar Pradesh (West) with effect from January 31 2018.

Here is a quick understanding, based on the tweets of frustrated customers:

  • Himachal Pradesh: No time to port out. Customers say no time given to port out. #
  • Kolkata: Aircel says customers can visit store and get their UPC codes to port out. But very few to no stores open according to twitter responses. #
  • Rajasthan: Users have tweeted to BJP MP Manoj Sinha, seeking help. But stores are closed, and customer care executives are least bothered to help customers. #
  • Karnataka: People who have moved from Pune, Chennai, Mumbai to Bengaluru are facing a great deal of challenge reaching out to executives as well as TRAI officials. A twitter user however pointed out that by February 21, customer care of Aircel Karnataka was taken over by Vodafone.#
  • Tamil Nadu: Worst affected at the moment with 1.5 crore customers. Many have an emotional bonding with Aircel, the service provider who offered services consistently for quite a long time. #
  • Kerala: A handful tweets, but people are more shocked than angry on the shutdown in South.#

Himachal Pradesh:

Kolkata:

Rajasthan:

Karnataka:

Tamil Nadu:

Kerala:

Do add in your comments, if you happen to find a secret door to port-out.

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