Can a UID for buildings help citizens get easier access to civic services?

  • Manoj Nair, Hindustan Times
  • Updated: Aug 08, 2016 00:20 IST

On Sunday, residents of Nepean Sea Road announced their plan to use the municipal corporation’s SAC – System Account Number – to identify buildings and properties in the area.

Around ten years, when the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) started digitising its records and tax administration, every residential and commercial unit in the city was assigned a unique identity number (UID). The number now appears in property documents and tax invoices.

While municipal officials have been using SAC for their work, the residents of Napean Sea Road will be the first citizens in Mumbai to use the number to access municipal services.

To start with, every building in the area will add the 15-digit SAC to their name board. Napean Sea Road is in zone 17 of the ‘D’ municipal ward, so properties in the area have SACs that start with D17. The next digits in the number will represent the building, with the last four identifying the flat or property unit.

The idea to get citizens to use the numbers was made by assistant municipal commissioner Parag Masurkar in January when the city’s municipal commissioner asked ward officers – who head each of the 24 municipal zones – for innovative ideas that could improve governance. Masurkar, who is the ward officer for the area that includes Andheri (West), said, “We have been using these numbers for many years but I felt we could use it for other purposes,” said Masurkar.

Masurkar, who was earlier the ward officer in the area that includes Napean Sea Road, said that while the municipal corporation wants to introduce the idea among citizens ‘step by step’, the Napean Sea Road residents have decided not to wait for an official nod to use SACs. “They have showed the initiative,” said Masurkar.

Other cities are also experimenting with such UIDs, said Masurkar. In 2015, Vijaywada in Andhra Pradesh started assigning a unique identification code for every building in the city. Apart from doing away with the need for residents to give detailed addresses of their properties while using municipal services, the eight-digit number was to be linked to a phone application that could find the location of the property. Tamil Nadu has planned a Global Positioning System-based identification number for buildings in villages. The aim of the project is to make it easier for citizens to access government services. In Mumbai too, that is the plan. “It will be easy for citizens to get various documents when there is a single number,” said Masurkar.

Mukul Mehra, honorary secretary of the Napean Sea Road Citizens Forum said that they had seen the SAC on property tax bills. “The number was used for internal use in municipal offices and there has not been much publicity,” said Mehra, explaining how they plan to use the number. “Suppose someone has a problem with the water supply in their flat. How do you locate the flat; there are about 250,000 people living in D ward. If you have the SAC, it will be easier to track complaints.”

Masurkar shared the enthusiasm. “There are various departments in the municipal corporation and every section, like the shop licencing section, issues documents. But every department processes files with that carry different numbers,” said Masurkar. “One there is a single number it will be make it easy to co-relate the documents.”

There is also scepticism whether the use of a special number will improve municipal services. “I do not think it will work. Every ward has 21 corporators and these numbers will add to the confusion,” said Godfrey Pimenta of Watchdog Foundation, a group campaigning for better civic services. “BMC has a multi-layered employee system. Maybe senior officials will understand the new system, but workers w

The Napean Sea Road residents are optimistic. “We can give people a tool which can increase the efficiency of their communication with municipal officials,” said Mehra.

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