(Subhas Chandra Pattanayak)

Can you believe that a section of Government Officers in Orissa have been punishing the people with cash fine for the offence they themselves commit?

This has been happening in the registration wing of the Revenue department.

Inspector General of Registration (IGR) Pramod Chandra Patnaik, an outstanding officer marked for enkindling work culture in whatever Office he has been placed, discovered this matchless mischief while conducting a surprise enquiry on 22 September 2005 in a Sub-Registrar’s Office in the Sate capital and has reversed the practice with disciplinary action initiated against the wrong doers.

The British time Registration Act, 1908 has provision for collection of “safe custody fee” from the presentant of a document for registration It stipulates, “for the custody of documents which remain unclaimed for more than 15 days from the date of completion i.e. from the date on which it was endorsed, as ‘registered’ or ‘registration refused’, a fee of Rs.2.00 shall be levied for each fortnight or part thereof.”

But the time for completion of the registration has been stipulated under Rule 100 of the Orissa Registration Rules, 1988. It says, “documents admitted to registration shall be completed and made ready for delivery within 7 days from the date of their admission”.
So, a presentant is liable to pay cash fine to the tune of Rs.2.00 as “safe custody fee” for every fortnight or part thereof from the 21st day of admission of the document for registration if within that period the completed document is not “received” by him/her from the Registration Office.

The IGR during investigation on disposal of cases in the Office of the Sub-Registrar, Khandagiri in Bhubaneswar found that in its latest Register opened from 4 July 2005 and updated only till 14 September 2005, as many as 851 “registered” documents out of 1531, constituting 55.58% of the total “were not handed over to the registrants as copying work (endorsement on the backside) has not been completed”. And, “many of these documents are lying for the last more than two months”. Noting that “this is the picture about verification of the current Register”, in his Inspection note, submitted to Member, Board of Revenue with copies thereof forwarded to relevant officers from the Principal secretary to District Sub-Registrars, Patnaik has mentioned, “Verification of the previous registers will certainly add to the pendency alarmingly”.

But the most alarming fact he discovered on verification of the “Fee Book”, is that “safe custody fee” were being collected till then from the registrants for the delay in their receiving the registered documents, even though the delay was caused by the Office as noted above. “At the time of delivery of documents, in the Register of unclaimed documents, the date of document being ready is shown as a date which is just 7 days added to the date of presentation / admission, whereby the presentant as if did not turn up to receive the document in time, is compelled to pay ‘safe custody fee’ as prescribed above, which undoubtedly is a harassment to the public”, the IGR has recorded.

It has been stipulated under Rule 100 of the OR Rules, 1988 that documents admitted to registration shall be completed and made ready for delivery “within 7 days from the date of their admission” and shall be promptly returned to the presentant and the duplicate receipts returned by the parties shall be pasted on the respective originals. This being the position, the Registering officer “is law bound to hand over the document within 7 days of admission”. But by habit, the Registering Offices go criminally slow.

As the Law stipulates that responsibility must be fixed for delay in delivery of the document, so that the presentant if found guilty of negligence in taking delivery could be made to pay the ‘safe custody fee’, the officers usually put the delayed deeds in the ‘Register of unclaimed documents’ in order to evade their own responsibility and to cover up delay made at their own end. As a result, the faultless public is subjected to cash penalty under coloured charges of negligence in receiving their documents in time.

The IGR has suspended the in-charge person with immediate effect on 22 September 2005 and passed orders for joint disciplinary proceeding against four of the members of the staff of Kandagiri registration Office for having played this fraud on the public.

“The District Sub-Registrar, Khurda located at Bhubaneswar in whose office Sub-Registrar, Khandagiri office is functioning, it seems, has never visited the office to see the pattern of functioning. Therefore, he should be ‘cautioned’ for such dereliction of duty, which has directly affected the public”, the IGR has noted.

He has instructed all the District Sub-Registrars to ensure that “such type of harassment is no more caused to public in offices under their control.

Instead of ‘safe custody fee’ from the faultless public, ‘delayed delivery charges’ must be collected from the negligent employee, he has said. “If delay is caused in handing over the document, for no fault of the presentant, the ‘safe custody charges’ are recovered from the dealing assistant and not from the presentant”. Thus saying, the IGR has instructed the District Sub-Registrars to “personally monitor this”.

To eliminate the located fraud, the Sub-Registrars are asked to stick to the provisions of law by giving in writing the probable date of delivery of the document to every presentant and to communicate the reasons of delay if that is unavoidable while reaffixing the delivery date.

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