Preface: According to Registration of Births and Deaths Act, 1969 (India), “a birth or death has to be reported within 21 days of occurrence. Free copy of the certificate can be obtained at the time.” [Source:Registration of births and deaths Act 1969. ppt1]
27th February, 2018: I visited the Village Administrative Office, Thiruchitrambalam which is the appropriate office for residents in and near Auroville and requested the person seated on the Village Administrative Officer’s chair to issue a death certificate of my mother who had passed away recently. I handed over copies of all the original documents requested by the office and, as they asked, wrote my phone number also on a document. The ‘VAO’ asked me to come 2 days later, on 1/3/2018 to receive the certificate.
01/03/2018: I was told by the ‘VAO’ that the certificate was not ready but I could certainly receive it the next day.
02/03/2018: The ‘VAO’ said that the certificate was not ready because the official stationery on which it is to recorded was not available but I could receive it the next day. I asked if it would be really ready the next day and he said I need not come daily and he would inform me by phone as soon as it is ready.
03/03/2018: No phone call was received from the ‘VAO’.
05/03/2018: No phone call was received from the ‘VAO’. Emailed to Tahsildar (Taluk Office, Vanur) informing about the delay and requested his intervention to issue the death certificate soon. A copy of the email was sent to the Collector, Villupuram District. Copies were also sent to Auroville Working Committee and Auroville Foundation.
07/03/2018: A staff member at the VAO Office informed me that they had ordered for the printing of the forms. He said issue of about 7 death certificates, including the one I had requested, were pending due to that. He gave me his phone number and asked me to contact him before coming. It appeared from his more cooperative behaviour that there was some positive effect out of the complaint I had sent 2 days ago. However, I doubt if the Auroville authorities did anything as they did not send any response to me.
09/03/2018: Contacted the VAO staff at the phone number he gave me. He said the concerned staff had gone to Villupuram on official duty and asked me to come the next day.
12/03/2018: The VAO Office was found closed. When I contacted the staff by phone I was told they all had taken leave because someone known to them had died. I rode up on bike about 10 KM to the Taluk Office at Vanur and told the dealing staff there my requirement of the death certificate. He told me to fill up a form, a bank challan, take authentication stamps on my papers from two offices around, remit Rs. 200/- at the SBI Bank’s branch nearby and bring the papers to him. I did all that and handed over the papers and he asked me to get also a record from the VOA, Thiruchitrambalam showing registration of my mother’s death so that he could immediately issue the death certificate from Taluk Office.
13/03/2018: Visited the VAO office, Thiruchitrambalam and conveyed to a lone staff present that what was required by the Taluk Office, Vanur. He said the dealing staff had gone to Villupuram for training and asked to come next day.
14/03/2018: Visited the VAO office but found it closed. When I rang the staff’s number in the afternoon he did not answer the call. I sent an email to the Collector, VIllupuram District with copy to Taluk Office, Vanur informing the lapse of 2 weeks since I requested for the death certificate and listed the reasons given by the staff at the VAO office for the same. I requested the Collector to intervene and instruct the issue of the death certificate immediately saying, “If such is the trouble for an honest and educated person with all required documents it is sad to imagine the difficulties illiterate and poor people of India have to go through.”
16/03/2018: I was told that since I have applied for death certificate at the Vanur Taluk Office, I should get a letter from them requesting the relevant record from VAO, Thiruchitrambalam. I rang up the concerned staff at Vanur and he talked to the ‘VAO’. The ‘VAO’ then asked me to come next day evening and collect the record.
17/03/2018: I couldn’t go due to some urgent work at auroville.
19/03/2018: The ‘VAO’ told me that the VAO would come next day at 11 am and I can obtain from him the necessary record. Surprised, I asked if he was not actually the VAO. He said he was not. He is an Assistant to the VAO and when I asked what the VAO’s name was and he told me the man’s name.
20/03/2018: I went there at 10.45 am and waited till 11.05 am. The VAO did not appear. I phoned the staff at the Taluk Office, Vanur and told him that it seemed the VAO, Thiruchitrambalam staff would not give the record until they received a request letter for the same from the Taluk Office. He told me to meet him at 2 pm next day at his office at Vanur and take the letter. i decided to take my complaint to the next level, a petition under the Right to Information Act.
21/03/2018: Went to Vanur Taluk office in the afternoon as required. The staff gave the surprising informtion that the Dy. Tahsildar of Vanur Taluk had been replaced by another officer that day. He said he would draft the request letter that the Assistant to VAO, Thiruchitrambalam wanted, get it signed by his superior and then phone me, at around 5 pm. I told him I was going to meet the Dy. Tahsildar to give a petition under the Right to Information Act (he was the designated Public Information Officer for Vanur Taluk, according to the Act). He advised me not to do that and said that even if I petitioned they would give some excuse and escape. I thought it better anyway to test the impact of an RTI petition, met the Dy. Tahsildar upstairs and gave him the petition.
The Dy. Tahsildar read my petition, browsed the document copies attached, asked me to be seated and phoned the VAO, Thiruchitrambalam, who incidentally happened to be somewhere in that complex at that time. A man I had never seen before came up. The Dy. Tahsildar introduced him to me as the VAO, Thiruchitrambalam and asked the latter why he was not issuing the death certificate to me. He said he had never seen me and asked me if I had ever met him. I said no but added that his staff never informed me about him or gave me his phone number. The VAO said he was available mostly in the evenings at the office for the past 45 days because he was attending an official training at Villupuram. I wondered within how he give that an as an excuse as, according to the law, the certificate had to be issued the same day. I told him it was his own staff who told me on 27th February that the death certificate could be issued in 2 days but never did even after for 3 weeks. I asked if it was fair that a man who had lost his mother unfortunately and had to apply for her death certificate be made to run from pillar to post almost every day by his office for nearly a month? Wouldn’t I have any sadness in my heart and feel indignant at such insensitive treatment? I pointed out that it was his staff who always asked me to come in the mornings and never said, for over 3 weeks, who the actual VAO was or when he would be available at the office.
The Dy. Tahsildar observed that it was true that works were getting delayed everywhere because all the VAO’s in the district had been asked to attend the training. He gave the documents I had attached with the petition to the VAO and asked him to issue me the death certificate. The VAO said he would immediately issue the certificate and asked me to come and collect the same next day. Dy. Tahsildar also told him to give his phone number to me which he did. I thanked the Dy. Tahsildar and left his office.
22nd March 2018: I phoned and then met the VAO at his office. He asked me to be seated, something that had never happened to me in that office before. He said it was wrong (for his office) to have given me avoidable difficulties. Within 10 to 15 minutes he wrote the death certificate, signed and gave it to me. I said a sincere ‘romba nanri’ (thanks a lot) and left with the satisfaction of winning a battle.
Conclusion: I have written the above so that it may help those who might need a death certificate in future and might not like to be forced to bribe for that – either for his own kith and kin or someone else – may be better informed to deal with it.
It is a strange coincidence that when I made a detailed complaint a few months ago after patient and unsuccessful efforts to get my BSNL landline repaired, that problem got solved similarly, within 2 days, and the engineer in charge got transferred the same day. Perhaps there is a great invisible force willing to intervene if we are ready to battle for Truth.
Postscript: It felt good that I could stick to my policy of not bribing anybody, anywhere for anything because I believe it is not only the bribe taker but bribe giver also that is responsible for the persisting corruption in the public life of India.