July 24, 2014

The Times of India (Delhi)


Ambika Pandit

The government has announced its plans to develop a hundred smart cities at a cost of over Rs 7,000cr.
What is a smart city? There are many definitions, but broadly it’s one where the quality of governance is enhanced with the integration and use of sensors, cameras and data centres through the application of IT. It has hugely impacted the management of traffic, policing, power and water supply, healthcare, transport, communications etc around the world. How smart is Delhi? At first glance, we are not even getting there. But there are some bright spots in the city, baby steps, which this new occasional series will attempt to capture
Parking chaos greets you outside the government complex housing the sub-registrar offices in Mehrauli, south Delhi. Hassled men and women jostle to get to a grilled window labelled as “Counter No.1“ to speak to an anxious looking staffer. An elderly couple sits on chairs screwed to the wall, sweating in the heat. Their property agent, overeager to prove his worth, quickly glides through the crowd to reach the next window for submitting documents.Deed writers, advocates and a few agents hang out at the gate in the hope of catching some gullible clients. An asbestos cover is the only relief from the heat and humidity if you don’t count the makeshift cold drink and snack counter. There are no toilet and water facilities. This is the scene outside the sub-registrar office (Kalkaji), southeast district.

The building next door is also a sub-registrar office but nothing like what you would have imagined. This is an e-sub-registrar office (Mehrauli), and that one alphabet has made all the difference. There is a green landscape around the building. A ramp, followed by a broad stairway , leads to a reception area.

A civil defence volunteer sits before a computer and attends to the few visitors here compared to the 200 odd people in the adjacent building. The e-sub registrar offices ­ 11 of them ­ give online appointments through a link on the website of Delhi government’s revenue department. Those who come without one are given at date at the reception. On the online portal, a prominent scroll runs the announcement “appointment with e-sub registrar office“. A mouse click leads to a menu displaying all the 11 e-sub registrar offices and the links.

Then pops up a menu of queries to be filled in for appointment and a checklist of the documents you need to apply for over a dozen kinds of registries ­ from property sale and purchase to transfer deeds, gift deeds, relinquishment deeds, rent agreements and will registration among others. A unique ID number is generated as the reference for the appointment day .

At the Hauz Khas office, which covers a significant part of south Delhi, you find people at ease as dependence on the staff is limited and there is no unseemly hurry .

The staff at the reception verifies the appointment ID and issues token numbers. The people then wait in an air-conditioned area with screens flashing the token numbers and sharp executives manning six counters set up for verifying documents and digitising them.

Radha Khanna, a senior citizen from Jangpura, waits patiently for her turn. She is full of praise for this Cinderella-like for this Cinderella-like transformation of the old system. “I have hired an agent to get my work done, but I am now realizing that things are changing. There has been no harassment so far,“ she says. She has come to register her ailing sister’s property located in the Hauz Khas area.

There is silence in the waiting areas as people watch the screen rather than seek information from the counter outside. Once the papers are cleared, people are led straight to the office of sub-registrar Lokesh Kumar. The data, already fed in by the executives at the counter, appears in the specified format and the registrar simply follows the laid out steps to seal the document.

Speaking on the advantages of the new system, Lokesh Kumar says all the data of the documents registered is stored safely in a server to rule out any scope for tampering.

“For instance, a lot of wills are registered these days. In order to deal with disputes over properties, we now videograph the will registration process. If a court seeks these clips in case of such a dispute, the video can be provided as evidence,“ says Kumar.

A wall-mounted LED screens shows a CCTV image of the various sections of the sub-registrar’s office, ensuring complete transparency . With rooms that have glass and wooden panels, the office represents a clear breaking away from the babu culture defined by closed doors and secrecy .

The last step is a visit to the photo section where the file through the in-house computerised system is declared approved by the registrar.

Digitised photos of the parties are superimposed on the documents in the files and then a final file number generated. The applicant’s documents are filed under the digitised file number and sent to a record room where the file is scanned and saved to the digitised archive. The hard copy is stored in the sanitised record areas made of steel chambers that are secured with locks.

Applicants leave from a door at the other end with a digitised number that promises a secure future for lifelong investments.

Revenue secretary and Delhi’s divisional commissioner Dharampal told TOI that the remaining six of the 17 sub-registrar offices will also move to e-mode by the end of this year. “We are identifying space for having one e-sub registrar office in each of the 33 sub-divisions in 11 districts,“ he added.

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