Weeks after the flood waters retreated from most households in Kerala, the state government has initiated a massive exercise in partnership with the Indian Institute of Information Technology and Management, Kerala (IIITM) to retrieve and replace important documents that were lost in the natural calamity such as home/land deeds, ration cards, driving licenses, Aadhaar cards, health insurance cards and school certificates.
A pilot project in the form of an ‘adalat’ (forum) took off at the panchayat office in Kunnukara village in Ernakulam district, one of the severely-affected in the state. Officials from the Kerala State IT Mission, representatives from IIITM and those from various departments of the Ernakulam district administration and Akshaya centres set up registration desks at the panchayat office to take stock of the complaints of the people. In less than an hour, close to 50 people reported losing relevant documents.
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“Through these adalats. what we intend to do is integrating databases of various government departments and providing copies of specific documents to the people. Using a new software developed by the guys at IIITM, a search facility is connected to the concerned department database through an API. Basic details such as name, date of birth and pin-code are entered. In a single search, we may get a lot of results on the same name. We push these details to the department counter where further verification is done of the complainant. The correct record of the complainant is taken out and a copy of the relevant certificate is handed over,” said Ranjith Vappala, the Programme Implementation Manager at the Kerala State IT Mission.
“This programme ensures people won’t have to spend time at different government offices looking for their documents. We are getting them streamlined at a single place. It might take a week to get them copies of the certificates,” added Ranjith, who came from Thiruvananthapuram to Kunnukara to oversee the pilot project.
After the pilot phase concludes, deficiencies, if any, are analysed before similar adalats are held at concerned taluk offices or local government centres across the state depending on the requirements of the people. Since verification of the documents is an important part of the distribution of compensation, the programme is likely to be fast tracked by the government.
The Kerala State IT Mission is also effectively looking at honing the facilities of DigiLocker, a national digital locker system launched in 2015 by the Indian government to provide citizens a safe virtual location to store e-copies of their important documents. The Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE) has also announced that it would help students in Kerala, who may have lost their school certificates and mark-sheets in the floods, to retrieve the copies from its DigiLocker system.
Ranjith said that those who have their Aadhaar cards or have opted for e-Aadhaar can opt for DigiLocker facility to store relevant documents. “We will help them create accounts and copies of the documents will be sent to their DigiLocker accounts so that in future in case of natural calamities, their papers will be safe,” he said.
The coordination from the local Akshaya centres, set up by the Kerala government in 2002 as part of a grassroots computer literacy drive, is instrumental to the programme, Ranjith stressed. “In every panchayat, there would be at least 2-3 Akshaya officials. It’s because of their help that we are able to do this,” he said. At Akshaya centres across the state, people can use a range of services like paying electricity bills, gas bills to booking tickets, registering for Aadhaar cards to booking tickets for buses, flights or trains without standing in long queues.
Jain Varghese Pathadan, secretary of the Kunnukara panchayat, said adalats like these can help people get back their most prized possessions without having to go through legal and bureaucratic hassles.
“People don’t have to pay anything as the facility is absolutely free. In Kunnukara panchayat jurisdiction, we have around 6,800 households out of which just around 500 homes may have been unaffected by the floods. Rest of the houses were partially or completely inundated,” said Pathadan.
On Tuesday, Mary Mathew, in her 60s, was among those who patiently waited at the panchayat office for her turn to come. “Somebody told me about the adalat when I came to pay the gas bill. My house deed was washed away in the floods. Without it, there’s no proof of my residence. That’s why I have come here. They have given me a token number. I am waiting for my turn,” she said.