Punitive retrieval

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By Shahnawaz Khan

Do the rule makers know that someone can lose a document, like a degree certificate or a passport, in an accident or a disaster? Does the government know it? Do the University of Kashmir and the State Board of School Education know it? Does the Jammu and Kashmir Bank know it? Do these organisations have a provision for such people who have lost important documents in an accident? Sound silly questions, but I have learned answers the hard way. That is a plain NO. Now the question how much do they charge for a duplicate.

If someone loses a degree certificate from the University of Kashmir in a fire he has to pay Rs 2500 in place of the normal fee of Rs 100. At the state board of school education it is around Rs 1000. For a lost passport you have to pay Rs 2500 in place of the normal fee of Rs 1000. For a burnt chequebook you can be charged Rs 500 at the Jammu and Kashmir Bank.
And obviously there are a lot of other charges that go into the retrieval of these documents like paying for newspapers ads, affidavits, bribes and so on. Sounds hypothetical, but I am only talking of the charges that I and my sister paid for after losing all these documents in a fire at our house two years back. Obviously we didn’t just lose our documents, we had lost our house, and most of our belongings too.

At a time when I was homeless, penniless, and jobless (the fire had destroyed my computer and most of professional equipments leaving me virtually jobless), wearing clothes gifted by my friends, I was paying through nose for silly documents just because everyone around insisted we should process our documents on priority.  I often wondered if we were doing the right thing, exhausting whatever little we were left with, at a time when each penny meant the most to us in life, for the documents that meant perhaps nothing then.

I often wondered why there wasn’t any provision for disaster struck people like me. I couldn’t have been the first to lose my documents in an accident. How many homes did the earthquake destroy? How many fire incidents take place every week?  How may people lose documents like me? Yet everyone seemed indifferent, from passport office to the university to the bank. For the passport I also had to get an affidavit with a clause that I would not repeat the mistake of being “irresponsible” with my passport in future.  That was the rule, I couldn’t have argued and I was in no mood.

At the Jammu and Kashmir Bank I wrote an application that I have lost my cheque book in a fire at my house. I was charged only Rs 500. That was my official cheque book. For my personal savings chequebook I was asked to pay Rs 400 for 20 leaves.

I did not, and preferred to use ATM to this day. Two years after the tragedy when we have gathered our lives to a great extent, Rs 400 for a 20 leaf chequebook still seems exorbitant to me. So do the fee for most of these documents. I often wondered why our system is so indifferent, or say blind. But then what should I expect in a place where I had to use influence to avoid paying a bribe for the basic documental proof of my tragedy – an FIR stating that fire destroyed our house on December 10, 2006.

About Author

A journalist with seven years of working experience in Kashmir.

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