Simpler governmenthttps://indianexpress.com/article/opinion/columns/simpler-government/

Simpler government

Some lessons from the process of passport renewal and police verification.

The Aadhaar card that 700 million Indians already have has biometric proof of identity. The only other thing that might be needed is proof of address.
The Aadhaar card that 700 million Indians already have has biometric proof of identity. The only other thing that might be needed is proof of address.

I had written a piece on ‘Unclogging India’ (IE, July 7), to which I received an unusual number of empathetic responses. People from different walks of life wrote to tell me how they had connected with the article and why unclogging India should indeed be an important theme for the new government. Simplifying government processes by using technology and removing redundancy will be a big win. Poor government processes pervade our lives, whether it is getting a driving licence, an electricity connection or a passport. Let me illustrate with a recent experience.

Recently, I had to apply for a new passport as I had run out of pages on my old one. I needed to apply under Tatkal so that I could get my new passport in four days. I put all the required paperwork together, including bank statements, society letter, electricity bills and a letter of good character from a government servant. As a result, I did get my passport under the Tatkal scheme speedily, despite an initial hiccup with my past police verification. Apparently, the police constable who had been entrusted with the task of completing my police verification the last time around had not found me at home when he had visited and so had put in an incomplete report. The passport officer overruled his comment and issued my passport expeditiously under Tatkal.

He did tell me to ensure that my passport verification was completed, or a passport renewal would not be possible under Tatkal in future. Given that I run out of pages in my passport every two years, I was eager to complete my police verification. To my relief, a police constable came to my house on a Saturday, when I was around, and completed a preliminary check for my verification. The constable who came to my apartment was polite and got through a set of questions in less than 15 minutes and left. However, he left me with a photocopied letter that identified a set of documents I needed to take to the police station to complete my police verification within three days. If I did not get this done in three days, the police station would return the file, which would render my police verification incomplete. What was daunting was the set of original documents they sought, together with two photocopies of each.

Twelve documents were required in all. I managed to gather seven and went to the police station, where again the inspector was very helpful and, other than asking me to provide some copies of pages of my earlier passport, completed my police verification, to my immense relief.

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Let us, however, examine the entire process and documentation required. First, in a digital world, to take two paper copies of each document is quite unnecessary. Scanning can substitute needlessly cutting trees. Second, the passport office had already taken scanned copies of many of the same documents a day before; the same documents were reviewed again by the police. Third, many of these documents were repetitive — phone bill, electricity bill, society letter and bank passbook were all required to provide proof of my address. Why so many? Why is one of these documents not sufficient?

Imagine the simplification possible. The Aadhaar card that 700 million Indians already have has biometric proof of identity. The only other thing that might be needed is proof of address. If everyone were to provide their Aadhaar number for, say, a mobile connection, with or without proof of address, the telephone operator could pinpoint the person’s exact location at all times that the phone is on. Do we even need an address proof? Further, data storage within government itself can be simplified. If there were a central database for the government, or even just the ministry of external affairs and the home ministry, documents would not be required twice and worse, not be stored twice in different locations. The process begs simplification that will both save cost and cut harassment.

Sticking with the passport analogy, India is the only country where, after you pass through immigration, there is another person to check whether your passport has been stamped or not. Immigration takes no time but you queue to show whether your passport has been stamped! We remain one of the least attractive countries to start a business in, citizens struggle to obtain basic public services. Narendra Modi, on the campaign trail, had mentioned he would not introduce a new law without taking out 10 bad existing procedures. In line with this, he should ask every ministry to identify, within the first six months, 10 mindless processes for review. Achhe din require widespread government simplification.

The writer is chairman, Asia-Pacific, the Boston Consulting Group. Views are personal