A few years after I moved to Delhi-NCR in 1998 as a student, I attempted to get an election ID card. I was asked to get my ration card for it. At the ration office, I was asked for my election ID card. Since then, the fear of red tape has prevented me from attempting to get a government document — other than Aadhaar — certifying my identity or address in Delhi.
In March, I was forced to face my fears after my brother, 43, hanged himself in his apartment in NCR’s Noida Extension, following a year of struggle with depression. I was saddled with the job of handling the paperwork — chief among which was to get his death certificate. In May, directed by the police and officials at the Sector 94 crematorium in Noida — where my brother was cremated — I went to the office of the Chief Medical Officer (CMO) Noida to get that certificate made. There, I was told that I did not have all the required documents.
I was told that apart from my brother’s postmortem report, I required a panchnama — both attested by an officer at the police station concerned. Since I had failed to get the certificate made within 21 days of his death, I needed a special permission from the Deputy CMO. I also had to pay a fine of Rs 60 through a deposit in the government treasury at the State Bank of India. And, I needed an affidavit certifying that I was my brother’s brother.
However, I was at the wrong office. Since my brother lived in Noida Extension, which is Greater Noida West, I should have gone to the Greater Noida office of the health department of UP — and not the office of the CMO, Noida — I was told. I then wrote an application to the Deputy CMO. But this official was not in her office. “Pata nahi kahan chali gayin. Subah aayin, fir bag rakh kar kahin chali gayin (God knows where she is. She came in the morning, kept her bag in the office and went out),” an attendant said. After waiting for an hour, I went looking for her. I found her in a room at the office. She promptly signed my application and said, “Since you will be going back to my office, tell the people waiting there that I am sitting here.” For the sake of the other people waiting for the Deputy CMO, I complied.
I then took a cab to the Bisrakh police station, about 20 km away, for the panchnama and to get the postmortem attested. “How can we attest the postmortem? We did not conduct it. You will have to get it signed by the doctor who conducted it,” said the policeman at the help desk. “But you have made it a part of your case file. So you believe in its authenticity. Please help me. Where will I go looking for the doctor now,” I pleaded. The policeman smiled and said, “Everyone has to run around for their work”. Thankfully, as a journalist, I could pull a few strings. “You should have said you are a journalist. For such a small thing, you are running around,” the policeman said taking the documents from me and attesting them promptly.
“The copy of panchnama?” I asked. “That you would have to take from the investigating officer, who is on leave. He will come back tomorrow evening,” he said. I contacted the station house officer who said there was no need to give a panchnama to the health department since a postmortem cannot be conducted without a panchnama. “If the CMO insists, ask him to talk to me,” he said. Since I had neither the energy nor the inclination to moderate a debate between the health and police departments, I proceeded to the Greater Noida office, another 20 km away, hoping for the best.
Once I reached there, the officer in-charge looked at the documents and said, “How do we ascertain that this death certificate should be made here? None of the documents you have given mentions Greater Noida. Even the crematorium document mentions Noida. We don’t know if this death happened in Noida or Greater Noida. You get a letter from the housing society saying your brother committed suicide there.”
“Sir, my brother’s residence is 20 km from here. That will waste an entire day. And then the postmortem report mentions the entire address, including the name of the building, housing society, street, even the police station and state. How does it matter that it does not state Greater Noida specifically? Everyone knows this address is in Greater Noida West. You can Google it. And where is Thana Bisrakh after all?” I asked him.
“You don’t know. Some areas in Noida also come under Thana Bisrakh,” he said. “You seem to know pretty well which areas come under Thana Bisrakh. So you would know that my brother’s residence falls in Greater Noida West,” I retorted in irritation.
“Sirji, this is something I know and you know. But the documents you have given me do not know. The documents must know,” he said calmly. Exasperated, I got my colleague to call the district magistrate’s office. While she was at it, I went to the SBI branch nearby to pay the Rs 60 fine only to be told that has to be done at the branch near the collectorate. Meanwhile, an official from the DM’s office called: “Yes Tiwaryji, how can I help you.” I explained the situation. “Okay, so the officer is asking for a letter. Then go and get it,” he advised nonchalantly.
I realised that the only man who could help me was the officer seeking the “Greater Noida document”. I went back to him. “Do one thing. Ask your sister-in-law to WhatsApp your brother’s property papers. They would have his full address along with Greater Noida written on it,” he advised. I got that done immediately, took printouts from a nearby market and delivered them to him. “Good, now your work will get done. Just get the affidavit from the market in the next colony. Come back after three-four days and I will keep the certificate ready. I will also be lenient and let you get the Rs 60 challan the day you come to collect the certificate,” he said kindly.
About a week later, I went back to Greater Noida; first to the SBI branch at the collectorate to get the Rs 60 challan. The branch did not have the form and I was asked to get it from a nearby photocopy shop. I filled the form, taking help from a tout — the bank staff had no clue on how to fill the form — and got into a long queue under an open sky and scorching sun. After an hour of fretting over why people should be forced to go through this ordeal for a fine of Rs 60 in an age of online payments, I got my turn. I took the challan and went back to the health department officer where the officer was ready with 16 copies of the certificate.
“Ek extra print ho gaya. Le jaiye kaam aaega. Maine kaha tha aap nishchint rahiye, aapka kaam ho jaaega (One extra certificate has got printed. Keep it, it will come in handy. I told you not to worry, your work will get done),” he said with a smile.
Ironically, every officer I had met during this ordeal had told me something similar: “Look, I am only trying to help you.”