Come October, and a quiet revolution will take place in India’s moribund bureaucratic procedures which have driven generations of citizens to frustration, prompted others to leave the country altogether, and played a key role in feeding the bribery and corruption eco-system. The Registration of Births and Deaths (Amendment) Act 2023 which comes into effect on 1 October includes provisions for digital registration and delivery of birth and death certificates thereby establishing a nation- wide database. This dataset will be shared among relevant government agencies managing databases to enhance public service delivery, update information in real time, and minimise if not prevent errors in the national database.
The Act envisages that digital birth and death certificates will over a period of time serve as definitive proof of the age and place of birth of an Indian citizen, reducing the need for multiple documents to verify the same. The Act is expected to enable the use of digital birth certificates as a single document for admission to educational institutions, applications for driving licences, government jobs, passports, Aadhaar cards, marriage registrations, and the like. Digital death certificates will help speed up division of assets for bereaved families as opposed to the current situation where those left behind have to run from pillar to post rather than complete the grieving process. Make no mistake: Streamlining access to multiple state services by eliminating the requirement for a variety of documents to prove one’s identity is nothing less than a gamechanger for the ordinary or garden variety of citizen.
Of course, the rules formulated under the Act have to address the Right to Privacy, now a fundamental right, and concerns over linking Aadhaar details of the parents to birth certificates will be raised given the propensity of officialdom in India to make a quick buck by selling citizens’ personal details. Data is the new gold, after all. There are also dangers associated with erroneous entries, where incorrect details of the parents can be attached to any child born in a hospital, for example.
Further, as the birth certificate is to be the conclusive proof of age going forward, its absence could lead to a situation where bona fide citizens, especially from the economically weak and marginalised sections of society, are denied access to not just services but even their right to vote and their right to an education. But that is an implementation issue; and the current dispensation has proven it is far better at tech-enabled implementation and delivery of services than those which preceded it. Hopefully, the government will ensure there is no opportunity for the Indian lower bureaucracy to indulge in its favourite pastime in the future. The processes put in place for digital registration of birth and death certificates will be vital