The Central government had invited comments on the proposed amendments to the Registration of Births and Deaths Act, 1969 (RBD Act). One major proposal is to prepare a national database of registered births and deaths. This is intended to be used to update, for every birth and death, the databases created in accordance with many other laws, such as the National Population Register, voter list and Aadhaar database.
Under the RBD Act, it is the responsibility of the States to register births and deaths. State governments have set up facilities for registering births and deaths and keeping records. A Chief Registrar appointed in every State is the executive authority for implementation of the Act. A hierarchy of officials at the district and lower levels do the work. The Registrar General of India (RGI), appointed under this Act, is responsible for coordinating and unifying the implementation of the RBD Act.
Information on registered births and deaths is now stored in State-level databases using a unified software in many States. This system enables citizens to easily obtain the required services. It also helps prevent fake registrations and errors. Birth and death registers also include some personal information about the child born, the child’s parents, and the deceased. In addition, some information required for demographic studies is also collected during registration. This information is not included in the register and is used only to collate vital statistics.
On registration of a birth or death, the information can automatically go to the concerned authorities. However, one has to examine the need for each birth and death to be communicated to other databases. It may be important for a population register to get that information instantaneously. For other databases, it may be enough to get that information on a monthly or even annual basis. For example, the election authorities may require the list of deaths only once in six months or so for removing dead persons from the database. Cancellation of passports or driving licences on the death of the holder is not very important as they cannot be misused that easily.
In all cases where instantaneous updating is not necessary, the concerned databases should collect the information from the best source. Whether it should be collected from the birth and death database is an important question. The address in the birth and death database may be different from the current or permanent address of the mother or deceased. The mother may have gone to her parent’s place for delivery and that address may have been recorded while admitting her in a hospital. Similarly, many people are admitted to hospitals in the city where they may have a temporary contact address. It is this that gets recorded in the hospital and in the death register. So, some data item, like the Aadhaar number, is necessary to link the information with other databases.
In an ideal situation, a birth and death database need not interact with any database other than a population database. This is because a population database will have all the information, like date and place of occurrence of the birth or death and names of the parents/deceased, that may be required by other databases.
A proposal is to include the Aadhaar number, if available, as one piece of information to be reported while reporting a birth or death, by amending Section 8 of the Act. This is an unnecessary amendment as the Aadhaar number can be included in the forms used for reporting births or deaths. Having already directed the States to include the Aadhaar number of the deceased in the death reporting form, it is not clear why it is necessary to amend the Act for its inclusion.
State governments maintain databases of births and deaths, some of which are manually done now. Information required for updating other databases for each birth and death can be directly given from the State-level database. Extracting part of the information therein to create a national database to be maintained by the RGI appears an unnecessary duplication and will only create an intermediate administrative layer without any value addition.
The databases maintained by the States now may not follow the same structure for various data items. I am not sure whether they all follow the same standard even for writing the names of individuals. For example, the names of many people in Kerala and Tamil Nadu have the name of the family and father’s name preceding the first name of the person while many databases use the first name/middle name/surname format.
The Central government should prescribe standards for data items in the birth and death database maintained by the State governments. This is necessary even if a national database of births and deaths is to be created. These standards should be common for other databases. This would make it easier to communicate information automatically to other databases. The cultural diversity across the country should be kept in mind while prescribing standards so that the citizens are not hassled later on.
There is a proposal that the RBD Act mention that information from the national database would be used to update the Population Register, Aadhaar database, passport database, etc. and that the birth and death certificates issued under this Act should be taken as evidence of date and place of birth for issuing Aadhaar cards, passports and driving licence, for enrolling in voter’s list or for school admission. These are unnecessary provisions. The law for each of these databases can specify whether the information contained in the birth and death register should be used for a particular purpose. It may be noted that till recently, the instructions regarding application for a passport contained a provision that only birth certificates issued by the Registrar of Births and Deaths would be accepted as proof of date and place of birth.
Need to look forward
Activities relating to the registration of births and deaths have undergone a sea change in the last decade with computerisation. However, the law has not been amended to take care of this reality. There is a need for updating the law to take care of these and future developments. The proposed amendments fall short of this.
A bill was introduced in Parliament in 2012 to amend the RBD Act to include marriage registration in its purview and to make registration of marriages compulsory. It lapsed as it was not taken up by the Lok Sabha. The Law Commission examined the issue again and recommended in its Report No. 270 that the RBD Act may be amended for including marriage registration. Instead of going for another amendment for this purpose, it should have been taken care of within the current proposals.
K. Narayanan Unni is former Deputy Registrar General (Civil registration System). Email: firstname.lastname@example.org