RTI Query Unearths Fake Death Certificates Used for Insurance Claims; Information Commissioner Asks To File FIRs, Upload Every DC on Website
Thanks to a right to information (RTI) query that travelled through the files of the state information commissioner (SIC) as a second appeal, all panchayats of Madhya Pradesh have been directed to upload every death certificate on their website and file FIRs (first information reports) against the errant officials.
The exposure of fake death certificates in two gram panchayats in the Gwalior-Chambal division of Madhya Pradesh was brought to light, thanks to RTI applicant, advocate Deepmala Mishra. She requested a list of death certificates issued and also a list of certificates deleted over the past five years from two specific gram panchayats. Incidentally, Ms Mishra also works on investigating life insurance claims for all private insurance companies.
SIC Rahul Singh, who stumbled on a disturbing pattern of death certificate manipulation while hearing the second appeal, observed that:
“It is crucial to immediately halt the village panchayats’ seemingly magical ability to "kill" living people on paper only to "revive" them later. To curb this malpractice.” Therefore, he directed all panchayats to upload death certificate information publicly on their websites.
RTI applicant Ms Mishra revealed during the hearing that there is a widespread racket of issuing fake death certificates from village panchayats. This, she said, has led private insurance companies to blacklist the Bhind and Morena districts. Ms Mishra also alleged that there was rampant corruption wherein the certificates came with bribes. Also, once the insurance claim amount is withdrawn, the panchayat secretaries then delete the record of the death certificate issuance.
Ms Mishra also argued that the ongoing racket involving village panchayat secretaries has been active since 2010, with no concrete actions taken against them. Whenever she sought information through RTI, the secretaries failed to respond for years. In cases where insurance companies' investigations reveal that the supposed deceased individuals are actually alive, the secretaries blame their hacked portal, stating that someone used their stolen ID and password to issue death certificates. Ms Mishra presented related documents to IC Singh, emphasising that recently, insurance claim amounts for seven individuals in Dabra's Khadawai village in Gwalior were withdrawn based on death certificates as, during the investigation, all seven were found to be alive. The case is currently being pursued in the local court.
Mr Singh, in his order, has pointed out this scam as a manipulation of official documents which is a violation of the Indian Penal Code. States Mr Singh, “I have called for immediate legal measures, including lodging FIRs against those responsible. It is clear that the excuse given by the panchayat secretaries that their ID passwords were compromised, leading to the creation of fraudulent death certificates, is not valid.” He has ordered for swift action regarding filing FIRs.
Mr Singh observed that the absence of concrete action against the concerned village panchayat secretaries and the lack of a transparent system for maintaining records of fake death certificates have enabled secretaries to issue fake certificates without fear. Finding the involvement of village panchayats in this racket alarming, Mr Singh dubbed it as a well-organised criminal activity that requires immediate intervention.
Mr Singh has also directed the commissioner, rural development & panchayat department, to pay a compensation of Rs10,000 to the RTI applicant for both cases, for the inconvenience and deliberate obstruction of information. States Mr Singh, “The failure of the CEOs of Janpad Panchayat and village panchayat secretaries to provide information raises significant concerns about their vested interest in denying the information. They are penalised for not providing information under RTI.”
This brings us back to the same old issue of public authorities defying proactive disclosures on their websites under Section 4 of the RTI Act.
(Vinita Deshmukh is consulting editor of Moneylife. She is also the convener of the Pune Metro Jagruti Abhiyaan. She is the recipient of prestigious awards like the Statesman Award for Rural Reporting, which she won twice in 1998 and 2005 and the Chameli Devi Jain Award for outstanding media person for her investigation series on Dow Chemicals. She co-authored the book "To The Last Bullet - The Inspiring Story of A Braveheart - Ashok Kamte" with Vinita Kamte and is the author of "The Mighty Fall".)
1 month ago
The whole system is rotting. Apart from the Panchayats which issue fake death certificates, connivance of Insurance agents with officials of Insurance Companies cannot be ruled out. This needs a deeper probe
1 month ago
Excellent article. It is a real eye opener. It reveals the loopholes available to the fraudsters. Hope to see similar articles !!
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