Tuesday, November 19, 2013

The unbearable burden of ID papers

India suffers from extremes in several fields. Floods and droughts, ultimate prosperity and abject poverty,overstaffed private schools and single teacher municipal schools, space satellites and bullock carts...... The list is long. Let me mention just one more. People with no valid papers to prove their identity and those with multiple documents for every purpose,be it personal identity , proof of address or senior citizen status.Now let us restrict the discussion to the second category in this post since only God and time can help the first category. The document which most of the people seem to possess is the ration card. It is a little odd that the document which came into existence because of the shortage of essential food items and was designed for facilitating just distribution of such items among the large population became an identity document.Till some years ago, the only document,besides Passport, that was accepted as proof of address was the ration card.To apply for Passport, the basic document required and used was the ration card. In those days, there was no voters identity card. Rent receipt,electricity bill , water bill, telephone bill and bank passbook were not accepted as proof of address.Even as proof of identity, leave alone proof of address, there was only ration card.There was as yet in the horizon no PAN card which is widely used as personal identity these days.There has been a sea change in the last twenty years.More and more people opt to apply for Passport.Irrespective of whether many or only some passport holders choose to or get to travel abroad, the Passport comes handy as a document to endorse personal identity and residential address.Many, if not all, possess voters identity card.This too, like the Passport, is accepted as both personal identity and address proof. Then there is PAN card for personal identity. For address proof, rent receipt, sale deed for the apartment,electricity bill, water bill,telephone (both landline and mobile) bill, LPG gas bill and credit card statements are accepted. The latest document cleared for proof of address is the Aadhaar card.The Indian Government is planning another document called resident card and this will be issued by the National Population Register. So , theoretically one has several documents which one can use to identify oneself. But it is a different story in practice.If your landlord refuses to issue a rent receipt because of his fear of income tax, then this option of rent receipt as proof of address is denied to you.The electricity bill is in the name of the landlord;so this option too is non-existent. If your Passport was issued in Delhi and you live currently in Mumbai, you have no way of using the Passport as proof of address.If your voters identity card was issued in Mumbai and now you have been transferred to Chennai, you can not use this card as address proof for applying for cooking gas. If the residential phone is sanctioned and paid for by the company you work for, then the telephone bill is not in your name and so it is not proof of your address.You can use the bank passbook as proof of address;but to open a bank account you first need to submit a document for proof of address. You see, obtaining the first document for proof of address is tough;thereafter things get easy.The need is to simplify things in such a way that there is one basic document available to all citizens for use as both personal identity and for address proof. And getting the change of address reflected on this card should be possible without hassles and delay.This single card could be either Aadhaar or modified PAN card. But the issuing agency should be the postal department as its reach and spread is unmatched. Even the smallest villages have a post office. Besides, which other organisation can verify and certify the declared address of a person as accurately and speedily as a post office ? In fact the postal department already issues an address proof card; due to insufficient publicity, not many are aware of it. The master identity card should have a number,the holder's full name, date of birth,address,photo and finger prints.Exactly like the Aadhaar card, but the responsibility for the address declared on the card should be vested with the postal department. Whenever there is change of address, the holder should apply to the post office for verification and certifying and within 2 months of change in address, the card should reflect the change. Aadhaar card, PAN card , Post office address proof card and voters identity card can all be replaced by this basic master identity card. The burden of keeping a plethora of identity documents will be done away with.The ration card will be limited to the original purpose of giving subsidized food to BPL population.Passport use will be confined to its intended purpose of travel outside the country. Driving license will be what it was meant for , namely conferring on the holder the right to drive a vehicle on public roads. Electricity bill, phone bill and gas bill will be what they are in essense and nothing more, bills demanding payment for services enjoyed.

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