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August 4, 2016

On becoming a citizen


August 4, 2016

It seems that in the eyes of the National Data Registration Authority (Nadra), every man in Pakistan is a suspected alien until he proves it otherwise. I went through Nadra’s tiresome scrutiny twice during the last two months. This is despite the fact that I was registered for the national identity card (Form-B) along with my father in the early 1970s when the process was first launched.

I needed a Form-B, the registration paper for minors, for my five-year-old daughter. I thought that I would present the Nadra-issued birth certificate of my daughter along with my CNIC and the B-form would be issued, but this was not the case. The process involved lots of verifications and consumed two full working days.

I went to an executive office of the authority in Lahore. The room was jam-packed with long lines at different desks. Outside the information counter, it took me half an hour to talk to the official on how to proceed with my application. The official saw the two CNICs and asked me to deposit a fee of Rs500 on the relevant counter.

Igot a token and then waited for another two hours to get to the fee-counter. The official at this desk again saw the two CNICs and the birth certificate and got the fee deposited. Then I was referred to yet another window where I was photographed. I was sent to another desk for the entry of data.

The woman at the desk again examined the two CNICs and asked me a few questions. The next counter took my thumb impressions and verified them in the database. After a wait of 10-15 minutes I was summoned by another official – the sixth one. He read all the data form and again examined my CNICs and the birth certificate. He asked me to present the form-B of my son, elder than my daughter. I was also asked to get new data form attested by some authorised government officer. I duly obliged.

The next day, when I went to Nadra office to submit the form, I had to take another token for the submission of the form. This was the month of Ramazan. I continued to stand with dozens of other people huddled together in a small space in a hot and humid weather while power outages made it hard to breathe. Women were squeezing their way through the lines of men; some of them left when they saw they would have to wait for hours for their turn. People were telling their woeful stories to each other.

A man sitting next to me told me that he had come to get his wife’s old CNIC renewed with the status of his wife (earlier she had a CNIC bearing the name of her father), but the Nadra people told him that he would first need to get his own CNIC renewed. The reason: when he got his CNIC, he was single and now he needed another one with the status of a married man.

When the man applied for his own CNIC, they asked him to bring the CNIC of his father but he had had died. His mother was alive but her CNIC had expired. So now he was having his mother’s CNIC made for which he would need a Nadra-issued death certificate or witness of a blood relation of his mother. After that, he would get his own card made and then his wife’s.

There were many similar stories. Some people were asked to bring the death certificates of their parents – an official formality many people in our country do not fulfil. Others were asked to bring marriage certificates issued by Nadra. A man, an illiterate labourer from Vehari district now living in Lahore, brought the marriage certificate but the official rejected it saying it did not bear the CNIC numbers of the parents of both husband and wife. He was asked to go to his home district and get the marriage document fixed.

In three hours my turn came for submission of the form. He checked all my supporting documents for an umpteenth time and told me to pick the form after 10 days, which I did. My daughter is now a legitimate citizen of Pakistan.

Seeing how difficult it has become to get even an expiring CNIC renewed, I decided to apply for the renewal of my card that was to expire at the end of July. My parents died long ago. I do not have their death certificates. I was worried. I again turned to the same Nadra office in Lahore and contacted the information desk. To my relief, the official told me I was required only to produce the original CNIC of any blood relation for the renewal of my card. I summoned the CNIC of my sister from Karachi and went through the ordeal of fee submission once again. This time I was charged Rs1500.

When I produced the CNIC of my sister, they asked for the physical presence of my sister who lived in Karachi. In her place, they asked me to bring my wife for her thumb print verification. I asked for a change in the temporary address as I lived on rent. The clerk asked me to bring the rent deed along with the copy of the CNIC of the landlord. This delayed the proceedings for one more day.

One thing is sure: Nadra officials are overworked. The executive branches remain packed with 200-300 people all the time. One can imagine the state of ordinary branches. I saw some officials busy in clerical work without a break for hours. The service delivery at Nadra can improve a lot if our rulers increase the number of Nadra branches. The procedure can also be simplified at least for those people who have reached the age of 60. They should be required nominal formalities to get their CNICs renewed.

The issuance of B-form to those children who already have birth certificates issued by Nadra should not involve a long, wearisome procedure. Similarly, if the basic credentials of an applicant are satisfactory, s/he should not be required to produce a plethora of documents and verifications for the renewal of his or her identity card. The only sin of the people coming to Nadra is that they are citizens of this country and want official recognition of this fact.

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