The Telegraph
Tuesday , April 8 , 2014
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Marriages in Bengal set to click!

Marriages will continue to be made in heaven and solemnised on earth, but the virtual world is where they will be registered as Bengal prepares to divorce tradition for tractability.

The directorate of registration of marriages has decided to take the entire process of registration of marriages online, starting with a portal that is due for launch soon.

“We hope to start the portal as soon as the required data is in. But it will be some time before online registrations take off,” registrar-general of marriages Surajit Roy told Metro on the sidelines of a seminar last month.

Bengal is aiming to be the first in the country to computerise the entire system, although there is no clarity yet on how that would change the way people ceremonially register marriages.

“In places like Delhi, Goa and Pune, only parts of the process have been computerised. From an application to printing the marriage certificate, every step here will be online. The certificate will be computer-generated, guilloche printed with a hologram and QR code, and bear the registrar-general’s digital signature,” Roy said.

One of the main reasons for taking the step towards fully online marriage registration is the trouble of storing paper. “We are getting buried under heaps of paper. All marriage-related records are supposed to be perpetually preserved. Every year, we need an additional 20x20ft room to accommodate the new records coming in. Add to that the existing records of births and deaths, which were our responsibility till 1969. Paper is proving difficult to preserve,” Roy explained.

On paper at least — no pun intended — the switch to a fully online registration system would make the marriage officer’s job more open to scrutiny.

“You can filter your search for marriage officers by naming the municipal ward for urban areas and the block and gram panchayat for rural areas. Once you click to choose an officer, he/she will be automatically intimated by SMS and email,” an official said.

Greater accountability is expected from the marriage officers under this system as clients will have the option to seek a transfer if his or her service is found to be unsatisfactory. The marriage officer’s share of the fee will be diverted to the new officer’s account once the register-general’s office chooses a replacement.

One-fourth of the marriage registration fee currently goes to the government. Under the existing system, the marriage officer accepts the money from the applicants and deposits the government’s share. “The process will reverse in online mode. The system will become more transparent,” Roy said.

Marriage officers are known to quote their price when asked to solemnise marriages at venues away from their offices.

In the present system, any couple wanting to get married need to meet the marriage officer twice — once to submit the notice of intent and then for the registration. The online process is expected to bring it down to one meeting, if not a single click of the mouse.

“Applicants would need to upload all relevant documents like photographs, address and age proof. The signatures of the bride and groom have to be scanned and uploaded. The registration fees will have to be paid through a bank or online,” the official said.

The marriage officer’s brief would be to check the authenticity of the original documents and decide whether to accept or reject the application. “It will be like the visa interview process,” Roy said.

The status of an application can be checked online at every stage. The certificate will be couriered to the bride and the groom straight from the directorate.

Roy said one of the immediate benefits of online registration would be relief from the headache of searching for paper records when people apply for authentication, verification or certified copies years after marriage.

“Many countries like the Netherlands, Belgium and Norway require current marriage registration certificates, issued not earlier than six months, for spouse visas. If there is a delay, people like IT employees who need to travel abroad at short notice suffer.”

The option of raising objections to a marriage would also be available online, making it easier to spot a potential fraud. Marriage notices are currently put up in the offices of the marriage officer, the district registrar and the registrar-general in Calcutta. This gives a spouse or a family living in a different state or country little chance of discovering — unless by accident —potential marital fraud.

In the proposed system, all notices would be available online and filterable district, subdivision and block-wise. But someone wanting to raise an objection needs to know the bride or the groom’s date of birth.

The portal in the making would eventually have a payment gateway along with all the necessary encryptions. “So many kinds of fraud are being reported that we want to make the system foolproof,” registrar-general Roy said.

The National Informatics Centre is building the citizens’ service delivery portal Sources said 60 per cent of the work had been completed.

The portal would have information on various acts under which marriages can be registered, the fee structure, published circulars, downloadable forms, a complete list of non-official marriage officers and a right-to-information button.

Roy had said at the seminar organised in Digha by the All Bengal Marriage Officers’ Organisation that computer training would be arranged for marriage officers. But not many were convinced.

“If I can’t pick up computer skills, I will have to employ a computer operator. And who will pay for the computer?” Shyamal Saha, a 52-year-old marriage officer from South Dinajpur, demanded to know.

Jayanta Mitra, general secretary of the organisation, demanded a stipend for marriage officers. “We understand the need to move with the times. But in a state where barely 50 per cent of all marriages get registered, the government needs to raise awareness first. The majority of our members have no work, that’s why we need a monthly stipend and other benefits like PF. Last year, we contributed Rs 3.5 crore to the exchequer.”