A long wait for passport

Getting a passport made in a metro like Mumbai/Delhi/Bangalore can be a pain in the b*** if by some wicked twist of fate you have made a mistake in documentation or form.  

My passport expired in August 2011 and out of sheer laziness, neither me or the spouse bothered to get it renewed before hand. All was well till December when we HAD to get the passport for travel purposes. Panic.

Documents were gathered, photo-copied, photos collected, and spouse even dug out a dedicated bag to store the documents. I started filling out the photocopied versions of passport forms (for practice, as spouse labelled it). Now, my earlier passport was issued when I was in class 10th and the signature scrawled was in a simple running cursive writing (a definite plus, according to my teachers, in board exams). I have since then forgotten how to write cursive as computers and iPads have simply spoiled me — I cant write neatly, leave aside sentences, work notes or my signature in cursive writing. So, I was given a piece of paper to practice my “old” signature which spouse insisted I had to reproduce on the new passport form. No amount of arguing helped as I was told, “It has to be done the same way.” So, I finally mastered my own signature of a decade back and signed the darned form.

Passport website had already alloted a date and time for my application submission (yea, it’s a computerised system till here) and reached the passport office promptly an hour ahead of my alloted time. The serpentine line of applicants was daunting but I stood patiently. Despite the computer alloting me the time, I stood along with hundreds for my turn till 3 pm (yes, even stood through the lunch hour when the passport officers left their windows and headed out). By the time my chance at the submission window arrived, I was ready to do anything asked of me to get the lady in the “passport office window” to collect my documents and tell me that she will send me the darned passport. Submission took less than 10 minutes and speaking in marathi with the window lady ensured that she even smiled at me when she saw my old passport was issued in Solapur (probably she had some one that city).

The passport woes had just begun. One month after submission of papers, as the passport office computer’ data waited for police men to feed it the next set of information, the local police man told us to come over to station for verification. There was a “mistake in the form,” we were told. At first, I thought he was just fishing for some bribe but then he showed that we had furnished our address in Mumbai (where we are tenants)
as permanent address. The fact that my spouse’s passport (attached in the documents) had all the address details and my name as the spouse made no difference to him. And while my application wasn’t written off as null, it did mean extra legwork before the passport could be granted. The policeman didn’t take any “fee” from me (he knew I was a journalist from my form), but my spouse …. (take a guess). The police man then told us that we will need to go to the CID office and establish my “permanent address proof” to them and they will clear the file. We went home assured knowing that we knew what to expect ahead.

By March, when did I not see any update on my passport status online (yes, the computers were still waiting for information from police wallahs), I decided to try some journalist clout. A few calls and I landed at the CID office to see where my file was stuck and if I can expedite it. CID office was a scary sight with the number of papers (all personal details of applicants like me) overflowing from dinky rooms. People side stepped the file stacks to move about. And I could spot just 2 desktop computers (certainly no laptops) in that office which was supposed to feed ‘security updates’ about people’s passport to the system.

In midst of my shock of seeing the paper information lying about, I was told my passport file had already been sent to passport office 10 days back. No one had bothered to update the passport status on website! So, if I hadn’t arrived at the CID office, then my passport files would languish in neverland?

Next was a visit to the passport office, some more calls for help and I was told to meet the PRO at the passport office. I explained my case to him and the first thing he asked was, “Give me your business card.” This he stapled to my bundle of passport documents (!) and asked me to write an application stating the whole situation and my permanent address proof was duly stapled too. “Your passport will be sent to you soon,” I was assured. That’s it. Done.

Six days later, the passport arrived in Speed Post which I missed (obviously, since I was at work) so the task of collecting the passport from the local post office was next on list. Collect between 9:30 am and 10:30 am — read the note that postman left on my door. But nothing could keep me away from collecting passport now. After 15 minutes of wait in post office line, I finally had the passport in my hands. Hallelujah.

Point is, despite all the news reports I see of computerization in passport offices, I now know that ground reality is that it just means giving forms digitally and having a database where my passport data is stored. If only government could clear away the manual hurdles for at least certain type of passport applications like renewals after expiry or say applicant’s name change etc then the process would be so much more faster. Three months is an awfully long time for passport renewal!


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