Punjab today won major National Honors as ‘the best governed state’ in the country. Punjab, a sensitive border state with an unenviable legacy of nearly two decades of militancy and dangerous under-covered terror tactics of a hostile neighboring country pipped, fancied states like Gujarat, Kerala, Karnataka etc. to win the much sought after award.The ‘Best Governance Practice’ award vindicates the State Government’s new approach to issue of development and social sector goals spearheaded by the country’s most seasoned and widely respected Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal and aided by the aggressive pursuit of bold Governance Reforms by the Deputy Chief Minister Sukhbir Singh Badal.Prime Minister Narendra Modi today conferred the ‘Best Governance Practice’ Award to the Punjab Government for its unique citizen centric initiative to abolish non-statutory affidavits in the state at Vigyan Bhavan, New Delhi on the Ninth ‘Civil Services Day’.This prestigious award was received by the state Chief Secretary Mr. Sarvesh Kaushal.
Disclosing this here today, a spokesperson of the CMO said that Punjab was the first State in the country to abolish the practice of seeking affidavits in 2010. According to the spokesperson, earlier, in a communication to the Punjab Chief Secretary, the Union Government on June 17, 2013, categorically lauded the efforts made by the Punjab Government to do away with affidavits as a citizen-friendly reform and stated that, “it would be a worthwhile effort to extend this successful policy to other State governments as well as to the Centre”.Even after sixty-three years of Independence, citizens have to prove their identity. For declarations relating to their profession, income, caste, residence proof, etc., affidavits are to be given on legal papers sworn before a Magistrate or public notary. Even to procure ration cards, electricity, sewerage and water connection, birth and death certificates and for applications for admission to the educational institutions, affidavits attested by Gazetted officer or third party or public notary, or Magistrate have to be produced.
Meanwhile, the Punjab Chief Minister Mr. Parkash Singh Badal highly lauded the efforts of Punjab Governance Reforms Commission, Department of Governance Reforms and Chief Secretary and other officials of the State for making a landmark progressive initiative that has earned all round attention and recognition. He also emphasized that it was encouraging that initiatives like rationalization of affidavits as introduced in Punjab have been recognized and an award given by the Government of India. The underlying philosophy behind the abolition of the affidavits was to initiate progressive reforms in other spheres of administration also.
These reforms were essential for making our democracy– participatory, egalitarian and dignified. Likewise, the Deputy Chief Minister Mr. Sukhbir Singh Badal also complemented this rare feat and observed, “To meet the trust deficit between the citizens and the Government, we in Punjab in 2010 decided to do away with the filing of affidavits except in cases where it was mandatory under the law. Affidavits imposed their own costs on the citizens – buying of stamp paper, locating a deed writer, payment to the notary for attestation besides harassment cost.” He further added that the purpose of abolishing affidavits was to restore the dignity of the citizens by initiating re-examination and elimination of the derogatory colonial rules, procedures and practices.
Chairperson of the Punjab Governance Reforms Commission (PGRC) Dr. Pramod Kumar also appreciated the state government for accepting the recommendation of the Commission to abolish the practice of non-statutory affidavits in 2010. He added that there were two other areas which require the intervention of the Central Government. There were number of affidavits which were filed in Civil and Criminal Court Cases. These could also be rationalized by modifying the Code of Criminal Procedures, Civil Procedure Code and the High Court Rules and Orders. Another area that requires intervention is the rationalization of Statutory Affidavits by the Central Government.In Punjab alone, it is estimated that at least half the households file affidavits annually for one service or the other. Extrapolating this figure to India, the total number may be more than 20 crore citizens/affidavits and, assuming a cost of Rs.400/- per affidavit (one day wages plus stamps, fees and charges), the total expenses incurred by the citizens in India could well be to the extent of Rs. 8,000 crore approximately.
Interestingly, no legal problem was faced in adopting this practice. The Indian Penal Code contains a number of Sections such as 177, 193, 197, 198, 199 and 200 that specifically deal with the implications of any false information/evidence/disclosure/ declaration made by the deponents. Any such instances have been included to be subjected to the imposition of penalties, fines, registration of criminal cases and even imprisonment.It may be recalled that the benefit of change was obvious if one looked at the figures. During the year 2009-10, out of a total of 22, 68,439 services availed by the citizens at the District Suwidha Centres, as high as 65.60% (14, 88,053) were related to affidavits alone. However, during the period from April 01, 2012 to March 31, 2013, while a total number of 32, 70,715 services were delivered by the Suwidha Centres, only 9.81% (3, 20,963) services pertained to the affidavits.Therefore, it is evident that consequent upon issuance of Government instructions on April 01, 2010, whereby non-statutory affidavits were no longer required to be filed by the citizens, Suwidha Centres have been delivering the services within the prescribed timelines and, the actual number of the services being dispensed at these Centres has gone up four times between the two reference periods indicated above i.e. 2009-10 and 2012-13.