Birth registration ‘server down’: Anger over application process

Fatema Akhtar is an eighth-grade student. This year the government scrapped the JSC examination. However, the school still needs to register the students of class VIII for annual examination result submission to the board. Fatema is facing difficulties filling out the registration form due to incorrect spellings of her and her mother's names in her birth certificate. Her father passed away, and her mother, Mehrun Nesa, has been handling the matter alone for the past three months. 

This correspondent spoke with Mehrun Nesa on 2 October at the Mirpur ward no. 14 councilor's office. She brought an application for correction. She was visibly emotional, her eyes filled with tears, as she shared their ordeal. Mehrun Nesa explained that the authorities arbitrarily translated the names from the English certificates to Bengali, leading to the inaccuracies. Now, they must suffer.

She further revealed that she faced multiple challenges when attempting to apply for the correction initially—encountering issues like 'server closed' or 'server down.' The deadline for submitting her daughter's school registration form was 3 October, leaving them with no choice but to submit the birth certificate riddled with mistakes. 

In that office, another woman named Farhana Ferdous shared her frustrating experience. After a month of attempting, she managed to apply for her daughter's birth registration at a shop on the evening of 1 October. The staff at the shop repeatedly mentioned that the "server was down."  

Akshay Ram Dutta, a student at the National Polytechnic Institute, reported an error in his birth certificate where the middle name 'Ram' was omitted. Despite his efforts, he was unable to apply for a correction.

He attempted to rectify this issue on his own and even visited a cyber-café, only to be told there was a "server problem." He came to the councilor's office to understand what steps to take in this situation. Some individuals present advised him to apply in the evening or at midnight, suggesting that the server might be more accessible during those times.  

Amidst such challenges faced by people, National Birth and Death Registration Day is being observed on 6 October. This year's theme is 'Register births and deaths, ensure civil rights.' 

Major problem now is 'server down' 

Registration within 45 days of birth and death requires no fee. Between 45 days and 5 years, the fee is 25 taka, increasing to 50 taka after 5 years. A charge of 100 taka is applicable for correction of the date of birth, and 50 taka for correction of other information except the date of birth.  

For a long time, the major complaint regarding birth registration has been that applicants end up spending 1000-1500 taka instead of the designated 50 taka, which is 30-40 times more. However, citizens have been encountering numerous challenges while applying over the last two months, causing them to forget about the additional cost.

Many parents wish to register the birth of their children from October, especially due to school admissions in the new year. The requirement to produce birth certificates of parents, which was sometimes waived, has been made mandatory once again. 

A parent of a child mentioned that he attempted to apply for a month but was unsuccessful. He made efforts at various times throughout the day - morning, evening, and night - yet was unable to access the website. 

Another parent said he needed the birth certificate for his child's passport. He obtained the certificate by spending 7000 taka. 

However, according to Sumi Akhter, a resident of Shewrapara, she was fortunate. She was able to successfully apply for the birth registration of her child, Safwana Rahman, within two days for school admission. 

According to the Office of the Registrar General, Birth and Death Registration, online registration of births and deaths has been in effect since 2010. On average, 20,000 births are registered per day. The number of deaths is low though.

The surge in new birth registrations is anticipated now for school admissions in the upcoming year, with an average of over 30,000 applications per day. 

Experts believe that the server is unable to handle the load effectively due to the overwhelming number of applications. The online birth and death registration application process was closed for the entirety of August after a data leak affecting millions of registered individuals in July was exposed. Despite fixing the server error, it continues to be nonfunctional for most of the time.  

Starting in September, the responsibility for birth and death registrations in the old wards (numbers 1 to 36) out of the 54 wards of Dhaka North City Corporation was transferred from the City Corporation's jurisdiction to the Ward Councillor's office.

However, in the new wards (37 to 54), the Councilor's office hasn't been given the registration responsibility due to a vacant secretary position. Although the registration work was scheduled to commence at the Ward Councilor's office from 7 September, it faced delays. The reason cited was the server being down.  

Birth registration

Abul Hashem, the Secretary of Mirpur Ward no. 13 Councilor Office, stated that they managed to initiate the registration work from 19 September. They are receiving approximately six to seven new applications each day. However, the work progress is hindered due to the persistent 'server down' issue, causing significant delays in the online application verification and printing process. 

DNCC Ward No. 32 Councilor, Syed Hasan Noor Islam, informed Prothom Alo that they have been able to carry out registration work for 7 days and have received 64 applications so far. However, there is a shortage of skilled personnel to manage the servers. The issue might not have been so noticeable if proper training had been provided by the office of the Registrar General.  

In contrast, the Dhaka South City Corporation (DSCC) has resumed registration at the regional office using a separate server starting from 4 October, following a three-month closure due to a revenue-related dispute. DSCC officials assert that their own servers have high capacity, alleviating the 'server down' problem for residents in the southern part of the city. 

Problem prevalent outside Dhaka too  

Numerous individuals from various parts of the country outside Dhaka have reported difficulties while attempting to apply for new registrations or corrections in birth and death records. 

A man named Rafiqul Islam from Biswanath Upazila of Sylhet informed Prothom Alo that he has been struggling for two months to rectify his sister's birth certificate. Initially, he encountered problems in applying. He was able to access the registration site on 3 October.

However, after providing all the required information and attempting to request an OTP (one-time password) through his mobile number, he did not receive the OTP. He managed to submit the application the following day but faced challenges in making the online fee payment.

Subsequently, when he visited the UNO office and reported the issue, they informed him that the server was down. Upon calling the Registrar General's office and explaining the problem, he was informed that the server was undergoing maintenance, causing these issues. 

"There is no problem in the server"  

However, the Registrar General, Rashidul Hassan, did not acknowledge any server issues. He informed Prothom Alo that many people do not know the application process. Additionally, local offices are struggling to operate smoothly due to a shortage of skilled personnel. They tend to attribute the problems to the server and reject applicants, although the server itself is not the issue. 

When asked whether the server's capacity would be increased or not, the Registrar General stated that everything necessary for the server's proper functioning has already been addressed.  

"The server should be made user-friendly"  

Professor BM Mainul Hossain, Director of the Information Technology Institute at Dhaka University, shared with Prothom Alo that when setting up a server, it's essential to determine the server's performance based on how many people can use it simultaneously. Identifying the reasons for the server's improper functioning is crucial. If the server capacity is insufficient, it should be increased.

He added, any bugs or errors in the server code must be swiftly identified and fixed, and efforts should be made to enhance the server's user-friendliness. If the public cannot effectively use the server, it signifies a failure in the system designed to provide the intended service. Providing a step-by-step guide in a user-friendly manner is necessary, ensuring users know what to do. For various reasons, people are suffering due to the servers not functioning correctly, depriving them of proper service. 

*This report, originally appeared in Prothom Alo print edition, has been rewritten in English by Farjana Liakat