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Meenakshi, 24, does not have any civil servants in the family or friends circle. So, when she had to apply for a government scholarship for higher studies, she did not know who to turn to for getting her certificates attested. Finally, she spent a day at the Tis Hazari courts where an executive magistrate spends half his day attesting documents.
The rule requiring people to run around to get a gazetted officer to attest documents or affidavits could soon be junked by most central departments, thanks to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s push to a bureaucratic innovation in Punjab in 2010.
Instead, people would increasingly be able to self-certify copies of documents or declarations.
“We studied the Punjab model in much detail and had decided to adapt it for the central government and the states,” an official at the department of administrative reforms and public grievances (DARPG) said. Last June, the department issued the first advisory to departments to consider replacing affidavits.
But the response was lukewarm, with civil servants reluctant to risk the initiative.
This is why Modi’s call to departments last week to replace affidavits with self-certification — where affidavits were not required by law — is important.
An official statement called Modi’s intervention the first step towards “reforming the public service delivery system and bridging the governance deficit”.
Government officials, however, advise people to exercise caution since there were penal provisions that would be invoked for providing false information, issuing a false certificate and using a fake certificate. Depending on the offence, these provisions provide for a jail term of anywhere between six months to seven years.
“Self attestation also means self-incrimination,” the proposal sent by the Punjab government to the centre explained, pointing that self-attestation and verification was already allowed for passport and income tax related applications.
In Punjab, it was estimated that half the households had to file affidavits for one service or the other annually. “It is an initiative that has the potential to touch everyone’s life, sooner than later,” a central government official said.
In 2009 before the initiative was rolled out, 65% of the 2.2 million services availed by citizens at district centres related to affidavits. Two years later, affidavits constituted only 9.8% of the service requests.