The government took a decision that attestation by a gazetted officer is not needed for submitting xeroxed documents into various offices. With a few lines a decades old practice, probably dating back to colonial days, was done away with to the relief of public. No longer do students and ordinary people have to seek signatures and seals of gazetted officers. A self-attestation is now enough to help themselves unless required producing the original documents. This was a little revolution for people living in far off places where a visit to a gazetted officer's home is like paying a visit to the Prime minister's office with all the little codes and protocols of meeting. This simplification of procedure is much needed in the case of the Legal Heir Certificate.
Officially getting a legal heir certificate is very easy. You apply for it with a few documents previously specified, add postage stamps of a small amount and the work gets done in a few weeks time. On paper it does not appear that there is any hassle or a major hurdle to cross before obtaining the document. However, in practice the story is different. It is a circular process in which you start from with an application, not an ordinary application on a plain page but one written in illegible urdu by someone outside the office of the Assistant Revenue Commissioner. This application is forwarded with a signature to the Tehsildar, who forwards it with another signature to the Naib Tehsildar, who in turn forwards it to the Patwari, the latter notes down details with aid of the local assistant. The document has a return journey from Patwari to the Assistant Revenue Commissioner but not before witnessing a major stop at the Naib Tehsildar's office. A clutch of documents have to be attached at this stage including advertisement in newspaper, witness account, photographs, affidavit from court, last pay certificate (if employed), death certificate from the local police station. Once that is done, a clerk records another page in another file, and then writes another cover letter for the signature of tehsildar , who then forwards it to the assistant revenue commissioner. All of this does not happen officially but the application has to be carried in person from one office to the other.
The story of the process of getting a Legal Heir Certificate can be summed up in a short paragraph but the actual physical process is much more tedious and heart-breaking. Imagine anyone of the above officers not in his office on the day you go to get his document. That happens often. Or your application is in line for the magisterial signature. Often you end up doing endless trips to the office for just a signature of the officer and nothing else. So in such a situation you end up doing two things; use your connections, if you have any, to save time and energy. Or you put your hand in pocket and grease the palms of people who then take no time to expedite the process and in fact help you find the quickest path out of the maze of official procedures. Alongwith the customary excuses, to which they are used to.
Now imagine if the applicant is an illiterate peasant from a far off place. He earns his livelihood by doing daily labour. A day lost in his routine is a painful cut in his wages. He does not have connections nor does he have enough money to grease the palms of people, so it takes him months to obtain a document. He makes round after round to these offices to get his application from one office to the other. He is preyed upon by different kinds of people not to mention the insults and rebukes faced at each stage. What should have been given to him or other members of the family becomes a formidable task, one which saps the energy. All his work almost suspended because an important document has to be obtained. All of this becomes even more tedious and cumbersome if there is some kind of dispute among the bereaved, which is then played upon by the predators to their disadvantage.
The rather quickly sketched process above may be simpler in urban areas but that is how it is in the rural areas. The distance between the home of the bereaved and these offices is not short. A person who has probably never been to these offices has an additional difficulty in working with the documents, and unless any acquaintance who is familiar with this process comes to his aid, it is not possible to obtain the document. The situation must be really painful in a family with no male member, or if the male members are too young to scurry from one office to the other. The process does not end with getting this document but additional things have to be sorted in the context of transfer of property and updating the revenue documents. And remember all this is happening in the backdrop of the death of a person at home. When a person and family are trying to reconcile with the death and looking for time to mourn they are made to do things which are depressing to say the least, in a manner which is anything but sensitive to the emotions of the bereaved.
Just like gazetted attestation which appeared to be at one point of time a god-given law was done away with, similarly these needless forwarding signatures can be done away with, and the document issued at the level and distance closest to the bereaved, without wasting their time and energy; a simplification which can offer space for a dignified and peaceful mourning for the bereaved. Right now as things stand the pain of death is multiplied by the ache of head-spinning visits to officers who seem to be doing a favour and not duty by flashing their half-inch signatures. With death so rampant here, it should have happened long ago, but better late than never.