MEA Passport Offices: NEITHER PASSPORT NOR SEVA

       Ministry of External Affairs should be run better than Municipal corporations, at least that is what one would tend to believe considering the standard of intake of its officers, IFS no less. However, shameful as it is, MEA is known for its rude behavior and unhelpful attitude towards Indians abroad, and it is no surprise that our citizens are not considered worthy of civil treatment at home by the MEA babus.

Mind you, If you have ‘contacts’ you will have no problem. Or   you go through touts, in whose benefit the system  appears to have been designed

     TOI has done a great favor to the public by bringing out the problems faced by any individual attempting to get a Passport. The problem is not confined to Delhi, as experience  of other cities especially Kolkata and Chennai shows.

      The articles in TOI seem to have stirred the sleepers in MEA. How long the effect will last is to be seen.

     The Editorial piece in TOI succicintly sums up sum up the mind set that besets the babus. Unfortunately the name of the writer is not available at this time.

      The Editorial staff and the correspondent Manimaguda deserve to be congratulated.

     Ed: Yogurt

Red Tape Republic

Obstacle race for passports indicates what’s wrong with governance

      Passports are a basic citizenship document. Even a minimally decent standard of governance requires that citizens shouldn’t have to undergo a harrowing struggle before being granted such a document. But that is increasingly the case, as this newspaper has highlighted. Why that should be so reveals not only the state of society and government, but also illumines obliquely what’s been happening to the India story of late.

     Securing a passport has always been difficult, both due to lack of capacity and poor design of the system – where, for instance, there is lack of clarity about the documents needed in the process. But lately things have gotten worse, after moving to a new system which requires prior online appointments to apply for a passport.

       This is ironical, because the application of information technology ought to have made the going smooth. But it’s also a textbook example of how Indian officialdom works. Building in a lack of capacity and making the process as arduous as possible, whether deliberately or through benign neglect, allows many opportunities for rent extraction and out-of-turn favours. There are touts who can, for instance, magically arrange an online appointment that’s otherwise unavailable through the officially obligatory process of applying through a website. This suggests that someone may be slowing down online appointments, precisely because the transparency and uniformity they offer could reduce the scope for discretionary and out-of-turn favours.

      The same process can be observed in other domains as well. Aadhaar or unique identification could radically reduce wastage in government programmes by authenticating intended beneficiaries and eliminating the need for middlemen. But that has caused the Aadhaar project to run into a great deal of bureaucratic resistance and political heartburn. The higher education sector is ensnared in red tape, which explains why capacity cannot rise to meet demand. Result? College cut-offs soar, as young people find it more and more difficult to find a seat in college. Delays in project clearances have contributed to the economic slowdown and held up the India story.

     In a sign of change, however,the ministry of external affairs now promises to streamline the working of passport offices, while tackling touts and recalcitrant babus. The system requires a drastic overhaul, and it’s important that the ministry delivers on promises made. More friendly and transparent citizen-government interfaces are sorely needed.

     By ending the harassment of ordinary citizens and curbing opportunities for the corrupt, they would transform the compelling image of the government as a strangling mai-baap sarkar into one that truly empowers its citizens. And offer hope that red tape needn’t govern our lives forever.

Wait, bribe, and settle down for another wait

In January, I got my passport is sued in Delhi within five days. No hassles, no standing in line. Please do not ask me how. You know how. You just have to know someone. I knew someone, who knew someone. We have the most wonderful and helpful system in the world. -Sushil Verma, Kolkata

      My mother’s passport was held up for six months just for photographs. We were never informed that the photographs were missing. It only came to my knowledge when I confronted the Delhi regional passport officer and sat in his office demanding immediate issuance of my passport. I was lucky to receive my passport the next day through the office superintendent who came personally to handover the document.
-Sanjeet Teri, Delhi

      Iapplied for a passport on April 4, 2011, exactly a week after my mother and brother. Everybody, from the vigilance officer to the police official, took Rs 500 for their endorsements, but my passport hasn’t materialised. I have lived in the same house since March 2009, yet I was told to submit a PPF form, which is required only if the applicant has stayed at an address for less than a year. I have sought information under RTI thrice, but the passport office maintains it does not have my PPF forms. The police in their reply to my RTI query clearly state that the passport office can issue me a passport. I tried showing the entire string of RTIs to the passport officer in Ghaziabad but he refused to go through it, was rude and told me to never visit him again.
-Pankaj Adhikari, Ghaziabad

      Igot my passport after 18 months only when I lost my cool after having to stand in a queue seven times. Meanwhile, the passport of my wife Sudha Goel is still under process after six months. Reason: “Police verificatio completed on 26 March 2012. Your passport will be dispatched after ‘clear’ police report is received at regional passport office”. It could take forever for a ‘clear’ police verification report.
-RB Goel

      It present, appointments are given for only the next couple of work days. The authority should open slots for the next 10 to 20 days. Applicants will be happy to get an appointment after 20 days, rather than having to log in for appointment day after day without expecting anything. -Hardik, Bangalore
Icouldn’t get a passport for my daughter in India, even though she had a passport and had been to the US. They insisted on an affidavit from the Indian consulate in the US to grant the passport, and it takes forever to get the proofs that go along with the affidavits and passport. It’s an impractical passport application procedure. The police verification is nothing but a way to milk applicants.
-Ashok, US

      Ihave a few suggestions to make the passport system better. If there are more applicants than the sanctioned limit, increase the counters or open more PSKs. With TCS doing the front-office job, this should be possible without much hassle. More than this, the police verification process needs to be streamlined. Point of attention: the department’s internal communication still makes use of traditional methods (sending through post only). Unless all the agencies part of the passport mechanism are electronically connected, PSKs will be of no use.
-Srinivasan, Chennai

       For online applicants, the passport authority should accept and scrutinize soft copies of documents at the time of giving appointment. Anyone who has applied once should not need to register again. If the applicant is Indian by birth, having a school certificate, ration card and documents, these should be accepted. -Suresh, Chennai

      When I visited the ITO office for my son’s passport, I found that things could not be worse. In the last few years, I have visited the Delhi passport office on several occasions but the behaviour of the staff was never as rude as I witnessed today. They were almost abusive towards most applicants, particularly the poorer ones, many of whom were in tears. The TCS staff is as rude as the MEA staff. To top it all, they ask you to fill a feedback/ suggestions slip before handing over the receipt of your completed application.
-Gaurav, Delhi

BUSINESS STILL ON: The MEA on Wednesday said all PSKs will be instructed to file FIRs against anyone playing with the system. Nevertheless, it was business as usual for most ‘help’ kiosks near PSKs in the city

READERS WRITE IN
20 visits and 7 months wasted but no passport

Ihave held a passport for 16 years and travelled abroad more than 25 times. Last November, when my passport still had four years of validity remaining, I decided to get my address and marital status updated, to stay on the right side of the law. I had no idea what kind of ordeal I was letting myself in for. My passport, which had a valid US work visa, has been under process for eight months now.

     I made my first visit to the PSK in Gurgaon armed with all the status proofs mentioned on passportindia.gov.in. The woman at the fingerprint counter stopped my application process midway citing a security alarm as I am from J&K. After I showed her several proofs of my residence in Gurgaon, she discussed the case with her supervisor, and processed my application. But at the issuing counter, the officer raised a new alarm, claiming his system showed a prior pending application in my name. His senior also checked her database, found the rogue application and immediately cancelled my existing passport. I closed the first day of my struggle with instructions to visit the regional passport office in Delhi.
Second visit: I visited the Delhi RPO 10 days later but could not meet the PRO as my file had not arrived from PSK, Gurgaon.

      Third: I returned two weeks later, the PRO checked his system and assured me it was just an internal issue. I was told the job would be done in a week, and I need not submit any documents.

     Fourth: I went back after a week and was treated like a first-time visitor. The PRO said my passport was held up as it had been issued from Houston (at the Indian embassy there). He asked me to submit an application and leave it to him. But he refused to give me an acknowledgement.

     Fifth: I went back after two weeks and was asked to fill 3 PP forms and provide photos. Sixth: Three weeks later, I was asked to meet another officer in the PRO’s office and validate that there was no other application in my name. We spent four hours on this, and the officer concluded that my case was clear.Seventh: The PRO asked me to come after a week but I went after two. I was asked to submit PP forms again.

    Eighth: Two more weeks went by and I was given the excuse that since my first passport was from Trichy, some permissions were awaited.

     Ninth: After three more weeks, the PRO asked me to write a letter to the ministry of external affairs, saying only it could look into my “complicated” case.

     On and on: I made a dozen more visits to the passport office, wrote numerous emails to RPO Delhi as well as the MEA, but got no response. If I call PSK Gurgaon, they point me to RPO Delhi, which doesn’t reply to my emails.

     I escalated the case to chief passport officer Muktesh Kumar Pardeshi through the public grievances site but he also referred it to the RPO. My police verification is all clear. The online status of my request has remained unchanged for the last 7 months: “Police has completed verification process on 15/12/2011. Your passport will be dispatched after ‘Clear’ Police Verification Report is received at Regional Passport Office. You would receive an email/sms once the passport is dispatched.”

      How long do I have to wait? I might lose my job as I can’t travel abroad on assignment and my company won’t accept that.
-Ashu Mahajan,
Gurgaon | Passport file ref no. DL3070298129211

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