Yash Pal Ralhan
In the ever-evolving landscape of India’s administrative framework, where change is often a glacial process, a revolutionary transformation is poised to dawn on October 1st. This transformation, quietly heralded by the government, is set to digitize an aspect of our lives that has long been marred by bureaucracy, corruption, and inefficiency: the birth and death certificates. As India takes its first step towards a digital future for these vital documents, it embarks on a journey that promises not only to simplify the lives of its citizens but also to address deep-seated issues of identity verification, privacy, and accessibility.
Before delving into this digital revolution, let’s reflect on the past. When the current government came into power in 2014, one of its initial public-centric actions was abolishing the need for document attestation by gazetted officers when applying for positions. This alteration allowed applicants to self-attest documents and present originals during interviews or selections.
However, one major challenge remained – obtaining birth and death certificates. These vital documents often required citizens to navigate a labyrinth of corruption and bribes, with no effective checks on unscrupulous officials. Corruption plagues many state government departments, despite the grandiose claims of federalism made by political parties.
The Registration of Births and Deaths (Amendment) Act, effective from October 1st, introduces digital registration and delivery of birth and death certificates. This initiative will establish a nationwide database shared among relevant government agencies, enhancing public service delivery, enabling real-time updates, and minimizing errors. It’s a significant departure from India’s bureaucratic procedures that have frustrated citizens for generations, even driving some to leave the country and contributing to the bribery and corruption ecosystem.
Sincerity and dedication from the government have paved the way for this transformative step. It’s reminiscent of Rajiv Gandhi’s observation that only 15 paise out of every rupee reach the grassroots, while the rest vanish into manipulation and corruption.
The Act envisions that digital birth and death certificates will eventually serve as conclusive proof of an Indian citizen’s age and place of birth. This will significantly reduce the need for multiple documents to verify these details, simplifying processes related to education admissions, driving licenses, government jobs, passports, Aadhaar cards, marriage registrations, and more.
This digitalization can be likened to the present system of the Aadhaar card. When applying for a passport, only the Aadhaar card is required, eliminating the need for other documents. Currently, many NRIs visiting India for property transactions face difficulties as formalities often remain unfulfilled during their stay. Digital death certificates will expedite the division of assets for bereaved families, replacing the cumbersome process that currently adds to their grief.
However, this transition also raises concerns about privacy. In a country where personal data can be easily misused for profit, linking Aadhaar details of parents to birth certificates requires careful regulation. Recent incidents of data misappropriation, such as during the COVID-19 data collection, highlight the potential dangers. In today’s world, data is often considered as valuable as gold.
Additionally, the possibility of erroneous entries poses a risk. Incorrect details of parents could become associated with any child born in a hospital. Furthermore, as birth certificates become the conclusive proof of age, the absence of such a document could lead to the denial of services, voting rights, and access to education, especially for economically disadvantaged and marginalized individuals.
While the system may not be entirely flawless, the government’s implementation of processes for digital birth and death certificate registration will be crucial. It is imperative that steps are taken to minimize opportunities for lower-level bureaucracy to engage in corruption.
As we embark on this journey towards digitizing birth and death certificates, it’s worth reminiscing about former Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf’s visit to the house where he was born. Delhi Corporation had specially arranged to issue him his birth certificate, and he was handed a laminated page from the register bearing his name – a testament to the enduring value of old memories.
In conclusion, India’s move towards digital birth and death certificates represents a significant stride towards transparency, efficiency, and reducing bureaucratic red tape. While challenges remain, the potential benefits for citizens are immense, offering hope for a brighter, corruption-free future.