Before the advent of information technology revolution and entry of data in a proper format, registering of birth and death in official records was just a casual activity. This is particularly true for period over 50-60 years ago. It was customary for the far flung villages to have a “chaukidaar” who worked under the so-called “Numberdaar”. Information on birth and death was communicated to the relevant police station through the chaukidaar. As it was, the chaukidaar will go to the registration centre and get the entry made based on his memory. As could be imagined the entry location (police station) would find it convenient to use the reporting person as free labour and get him exhausted to the extent that he would actually forget what he was there for. Result being, the entries pertaining to the date and name of newly born, parents’ names, mid wife’s name etc. were mostly wrong.
Whatever was entered at the police station (mostly faulty) was to be transferred to some health-related facility of relevant location e.g. tehsil and district health establishments. With passage of time and with changed administrative set up (new districts, tehsils etc.), maintenance and transfer of this already faulty record could disappear or further distorted. The difficulties will subsequently be faced by all those who are in need of birth record or birth certificate. Illiterate people of those days (starting from the day Pakistan became an independent country and even from combined Indian times) would face more difficulties and will wander around requesting for help and more often offering bribes. Thus the whole system will work in a corrupt manner leading to issuance of the desired certificate or document but during the process, the applicant would get exhausted besides losing money and confidence in the entire system’s working. Thus the corrupt practices proliferate and the general public suffers in multiple ways.
Now we go into a little more details. What happens if someone wants to obtain a birth certificate for whatever reasons? One of the reasons (and especially following the terrorism phenomenon; Pakistan facing a greater degree of blame) to get such a certificate is when one wants to go abroad and settle there. This is not only for the main applicant but his/her parents as well. One can imagine the misery to be faced if birth certificate is required of parents who incidentally came into this world some 100 years ago. Exploitation of the applicant will be at climax as the system knows that the former is in dire need of the document and can thus be looted immensely.
Let us take an example. A person who was born in Pakistan sometimes before 1960-61 (before the introduction of Union Councils) wants to apply for a permanent residence in a foreign country. He/she will be advised to first visit the relevant Union Council (UC) to see if he/she exists in the record. Actually the person will not even be told that Union Councils did not exist at the time he/she was born. Thus a visit to the present relevant UC is made a must only to know that the visit was irrelevant but will of course involve time, money, and frustration. The person is advised from the UC to go to the health department and look for his/her birth-related entries there. The staff there is trained mainly in exploitation of the needy who ultimately will be told whether there is any entry or not and what the entries are. If the entries are right according to the applicant, a birth certificate will be issued that may take a day or more depending upon the deal between the two parties. It may be appreciated, however, that the process has been made a bit simpler these days (at least in Punjab due to strict monitoring etc.).
Now let us assume that a person who was born >60 years back finds entries not matching with his certificates starting from entry into the primary school till present (these documents may also include CNIC, passport and family registration certificate etc.), trouble starts. The health department will stick to the entries got made by an illiterate and under-stress village Chaukidaar but not to the educational and NADRA record, irrespective of the fact that these records may also be faulty. The fact remains, however, that the person’s educational and other records were authenticated by all relevant departments including academic institutions but to no avail at the health department.
In this scenario, the health department will not be willing to make changes in its records in spite of all kinds of supporting documents. The person is asked to get the data entry corrected through litigation i.e. one should submit a petition requesting for the correction in health department records declaring the latter as respondent. Now the court case gets initiated with no end time in sight and no surety that the result will be matching the person’s requirements especially in terms of name and date of birth. Further, instead of facilitating the applicant, health department will do its maximum to defend that the entries in its record are correct and the applicant is seeking correction or change for some ulterior motives. Imagine, a person over 60 (e.g. already retired from government service after rendering over 35 years) has some ulterior motives. Nonetheless he/she is made to wander around at this age in courts and health department spending, time, energy and money. Thus the life of a senior citizen is made miserable with criminal motives.
All the above is practiced, because the entire system including health, judiciary and others are so well connected for mutual benefit that each one of them has to find and maintain a pray (the needy person) for their persistent, sustainable, and criminal monitory benefit.
There is an alternate route to above. This relies on connections and more probably again on mutual benefit and exploitation. Instead of seeking correction/change in records with the health department, a person may go straight to the local Tehsil/District administration and submit an application for belated entry into to the UC records. This is a relatively simpler and speedy approach. But in this case one needs to have a good approach or enough finances to keep the claim intact and un-challenged. The whole process can be completed in 2-3 days depending upon the fact that all concerned officials can be found on the seats, which normally is not the case. A file is prepared requesting for the belated entry. At the outset (if money and contact is not involved), one may be asked to bring a certification from the health department to the effect that entry is missing. If entry is found there to whatever extent faulty, the application stands redundant. However, normally if the administration is friendly, the procedure starts straightaway involving few crucial steps i.e. certification by the village Numberdaar together with two witnesses, secretary UC and some other relevant officials followed by final nod by the Assistant Commissioner (AC). At any stage, however, one may be required to show evidence that the father also belonged to the address where applicant was borne. Now for example, if father was borne in India, the applicant will be in a big trouble. If the father belongs to the place of birth of applicant, one has to show a reliable document otherwise the application comes to a halt.
Once the application is cleared at AC level, applicant will be advised to get medical tests from District Headquarters Hospital (DHQ) mainly to ascertain the age. Here again contacts and other means come into play but ultimately the Medical Superintendent will sign certifying that the date of birth claimed is correct according to the data collected from X-ray of teeth and bones of arms and legs (interesting). Once MS signs, pre-requisites to the issuance of birth certificate are indeed completed. Now one must go to Tehsil Management Administration (TMA) and God willing, necessary signatures will be placed depending upon having good contacts and/or fulfilling other relevant requirements. This being done, one is eligible to get the belated entry of birth from the UC that works in coordination with the National Database and Registration Authority (NADRA). The Certificate is issued almost instantly; good contacts have a positive effect of course.
The lesson learnt from most people with whom one comes in contact for seeking advice is that do not go to the officers and higher-ups for any redressal. Instead, work with junior staff or some hidden agents on the roadside and the job will be accomplished without difficulty. To what extent this is true, God knows better though “Zuban e Khalq ko Niqara e Khuda samjho” may also apply.
With above in view, following are suggested to make the life of public a bit easy, and especially for the senior citizens as during those days (>60 years back) there was hardly any glimpse of corruption and all was being done in good faith albeit with a good degree of ignorance regarding the future consequences of any wrong/faulty entries in the so-called official records. No one would have imagined in those days, how their deeds will become a basis of corrupt practices, source of ill-gotten money, and a misery to basically innocent people born in that era.
1. To legislate that people borne before UCs were established (1961 and before) are entered into NADRA records after appropriate proofs are provided. These proofs may include:
a. Certification by the village elders, numberdaar and so on (in case where no schooling is on the record)
b. Primary and/or secondary school certificate
c. Any other supporting documents that could be helpful
2. Health Department record may be declared redundant and the people may go only to the UC with appropriate/acceptable evidence duly attested/certified for the issuance of NADRA supported Birth Certificate. This is all the more important as the certificate issued by health department is just a piece of out-dated paper format, something of a disgrace to the country when presented in a foreign country
3. Even Tehsil/District Administration may be spared as such to go through the process thus saving their time and energy for other productive purposes
4. Only UCs may be entrusted with the job in coordination with NADRA and Secretary UC may be solely responsible for the integrity of the process
5. UC record to be scrutinized more frequently by NADRA while the former can be bound to convey the new records on daily basis to the latter
6. There could also be surprise visits by NADRA officials to UCs to inhibit any malpractices
Above suggestions if implemented will make the system bribe-free as well as public friendly. Likewise, other public oriented documentation can also be made easy and facilitative instead of cumbersome and teasing.