In a welcome move, the Delhi cabinet has given the go-ahead to scrap 200 affidavits that were required in order to access various government services, including ration cards, income and caste certificates, electricity connections, even the booking of baraat ghars. The government rightly noted that these could be replaced with self-declarations and has tasked the department of administrative reforms to look into provisions for stringent punishment for wrong declarations. The Delhi cabinet’s decision takes forward a project started in Punjab in 2010, aimed at reposing trust in citizens and moving away from affidavits sworn before a magistrate or public notary, and certified true copies attested by gazetted officers and the like, in favour of self-attestation. The Centre under Prime Minister Narendra Modi gave impetus to this campaign, and other state governments — Gujarat, Kerala, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Goa — have followed Punjab’s example.
Indeed, as noted in a document of the Central department of administrative reforms and public grievances, affidavits impose a huge cost on citizens — of stamp paper, fees for the deed writer and notary for attestation, as well as time and effort. In Punjab, it was found that, on average, 50 per cent of the state’s households file an affidavit in a year.
The document concluded that, if this figure is extrapolated for the whole of India, the total expenses incurred by citizens would be about Rs 8,000 crore per year. All this when “affidavits have no particular sanctity in law and the same function can be easily performed by declarations”. The Indian Penal Code already contains a number of sections that deal with false information, evidence, disclosures and declarations, and prescribe penalties, fines and even imprisonment for them. In Punjab, the introduction of self-attestation had unexpected benefits in freeing up the energies of local suvidha kendras. Prior to the reform, in 2009-10, 65.6 per cent of the services availed of by citizens were affidavit-related. But in 2012-13, only 9.81 per cent were — even though the absolute number of services dispensed at these centres increased considerably.
But some caution is warranted. As the Union minister of state for personnel, public grievances and pensions, Jitendra Singh, admitted in the Rajya Sabha, some complaints about the non-acceptance of self-certification have been received, in spite of the Modi government’s push. In Maharashtra, too, the government’s initiative to dispense with the requirement for stamp paper for certain affidavits was ignored by the establishment. Efforts must be made to ensure that the Delhi initiative doesn’t hit a bureaucratic wall.
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