Long hands of the judiciary?
Recent experiences make me believe that a reference to the long waiting period is probably a lot more accurate than it sounds to us
This is a true story. Someone I know wanted to change the date of birth published on her passport. She found out, like a lot of senior citizens do, that the date on her school leaving certificate was not the same as the one on her birth certificate, because she simply hadn't bothered to pick up a copy of the latter. When she made the decision to ask for one, at a certain BMC office in South Bombay, she was made to wait for a mere seven hours before an employee condescended to give her the copy, for a fee. This was her own certificate, but she couldn't have it without a fuss.
You and I both know what the fee was, of course, but we can't use the right word to describe it because everyone knows the BMC is the most honest organisation in Mumbai.
Armed with the birth certificate, this person went to the nearest passport office, where senior citizens can supposedly walk in without an appointment. She wasn't allowed in though, because the law states that no changes can be made to one's passport without a court order. You can have an Aadhar card, PAN card, and birth certificate, all stating the same thing, but none of them mean anything until you get a magistrate to certify that the requested change is valid.
I understand the need for this validation, given how records have a habit of changing mysteriously all the time across our country. What I don't understand is the need for unnecessarily prolonging what really can be done in minutes, if there is an incentive to do so.
The next step for the person concerned was obtaining an order from a metropolitan magistrate, allowing the passport office to change the date of birth. Lawyers conveniently situated outside the court threw up all sorts of figures, promising orders in days or weeks depending upon how much she was prepared to shell out. It was just a minor change, she protested, but that meant nothing. Eventually, she found a lawyer who offered to get the order for R5,000. She paid half up front and was told to come back in two weeks.
The lawyer gave her a typewritten sheet asking the passport office to accept her papers. It was understandably rejected, given that the sheet had no stamp of authority or letterhead signifying it came from a court. She was called again and given a stamped copy, which she was asked to send by registered post to the passport office. The letter was returned unopened because the lawyer didn't know whom it was to be addressed to.
Two weeks after the registered letter was sent, the woman was called to court again, where a magistrate issued a court date. He didn't tell her what it was for, so she assumed there would be an order. A day before the date, the lawyer called again, saying she would have to submit evidence, for a fee of R1,000. This comprised a copy of that early letter, along with a notification of its rejection by the passport office. The next day, the court issued a new date, for a second hearing.
I have no idea what the new date will accomplish. I hope it will result in an order, but assume a third date is more likely. It has already been two months since this process began, and other people I know say the woman should have tried another lawyer. None admit to knowing how long a process like this ought to take though.
On paper, this seems like an open-and-shut case, that even someone without an understanding of the law and how it operates ought to be able to solve without too much of a fuss.
To say this out loud can be deemed an act of contempt though, because we aren't allowed to ask why something that can be resolved in minutes should take months.
What this little story does is put into perspective why serious cases related to crime end up taking as long as they do. It explains why under-trials languish for decades without hope. It explains why people accused of acts of terrorism manage to run for Parliament, then represent us if they are elected. There is room for satire here, and amusement, but it hides the fact that hidden underneath it all is real tragedy. Lives are destroyed because we can't be bothered to fix a system that has long been broken.
When he isn't ranting about all things Mumbai, Lindsay Pereira can be almost sweet. He tweets @lindsaypereira Send your feedback to email@example.com
The views expressed in this column are the individual's and don't represent those of the paper
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