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Home > Business > Special

Make life easy, and reforms will stick

A K Bhattacharya | July 23, 2003

Till a few years ago, getting copies of birth or death certificates from the Municipal Corporation of Delhi used to be a pain.

Entering the MCD office, standing in a queue, dealing with the usually unfriendly clerks and then getting a birth certificate in which the hand-written name of the new-born baby was either misspelt or illegible -- were all part of an experience which nobody would like to cherish.

Not even God could help you if by chance the clerk made a mistake while transferring the name of the new-born baby from the hospital's birth register to MCD's records.

Arguments that it could be a clerical error would not wash. You would end up wasting at least a couple of days more moving from one office to another to get that error rectified.

Much of that has now changed. The big relief is that you do not have to enter the imposing MCD building to get these certificates. Adjacent to its main building, a new small air-conditioned office has been set up, which deals with requests for birth and death certificates.

There is a reception, from where you can collect an application form. There are chairs where you can sit and fill in the forms and submit them to the reception. You will be given an acknowledgment slip along with a date (usually within a week) when you will be required to come and collect the certificate.

Collecting the certificates is even more easy. There are ten counters with networked computers linked to a heavy-duty printer. You can approach any one of these counters with the acknowledgment slip.

The person at the counter will verify the details and print out as many copies of the certificates you want. You make the payment and there is an MCD official waiting to sign the certificates and hand them over to you. All this will take about ten minutes.

It is then that you will realise that why everything happened so smoothly is because MCD has outsourced the handling of birth and death certificates to an outside agency. The MCD officials are involved only in ascertaining the details and signing the certificates.

The rest of the job is done by the agency. The users of the service are hardly bothered by this. They are relieved that what used to be a nightmare earlier has now become a pleasurable experience.

Indeed, no Indian citizen can do without a birth or a death certificate. These are vital documents that everybody needs. If the MCD manages to improve the system of obtaining these certificates and makes them more customer-friendly, people will start getting the real benefits of reforms. Then there will be no need for ministers or economists to convince people of the need for reforms.

But the pity is that in spite of the success achieved in handling death and birth certificates, the MCD does not seem to have fully learnt this lesson. Take a look at MCD's sister department responsible for issuing driving licences to the residents of Delhi.

Five years ago, you had to spend two days in unhygienic buildings to get your driving licence renewed without the help of touts. Today, you need two hours to get the licence renewed.

This is an improvement, you could argue. But why should the MCD take two hours for renewing a driving licence? Why should it not take just 30 minutes? And why shouldn't MCD introduce the same principle of outsourcing the licence renewal job to some outside agency?

It is in these areas of public dealing that reforms will make the most impact. Today, people will prefer a clean and efficient system to obtain licences or certificates from the government even though they may have to pay a higher amount of fees.

In any case, most of them are paying touts and agents to get their work done. Once these government functions are outsourced, the touts will go away and the people will get better service on payment of fees.

Simultaneously, the systems also need to be improved. The MCD, for instance, insists on attestation of all documents by designated authorities. This does not serve any real purpose except that some agents make some money by affixing stamps of attestation on any document that you bring before them.

Today, you do not need such attestation of documents even for getting a passport from the central government. Self-attestation is considered good enough. Why then should MCD insist on attestation by a magistrate?

That's not all. The ultimate objective of departments dealing with public should be to eliminate contact between their officers and the people. That is how corruption and inefficiencies can be rooted out. Why can't MCD, therefore, use its website to offer birth and death certificates to its citizens?

For that, the records need to be computerised. Once that is done, all that the MCD needs to do is to set up some Internet kiosks outside its building and allow people to get themselves their certificates.

Such reforms will then become irreversible. The Indian Railways proved it in 1985-86 by introducing computerised reservation of tickets. MCD too can do it now.

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Sub: This Indian sub-continent is being moulded

These are not economic reforms. They are reforms to mould the people of this sub-continent into the shape of things the WTO and the big ...

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