The Passport office promise
Joining a host of other earlier ‘assurances’ that a Passport Seva Kendra will ‘soon’ be opened in the state, the Deputy CM made the mandatory statement on the matter. He joins a host of others who have promised the same but it is for everyone to see that the promise has not been delivered as yet. For a state whose domiciles are spread across the world in pursuit of their careers, the lack of a passport office in the state is a major obstacle. With an increasing number of the state’s citizens and domiciles venturing abroad, there have been persistent calls for a Passport Seva Kendra but the concerned authorities have been busy with lip service while remaining tone deaf to the said calls. Even as Manipur and other states in the North East region make do without a Passport Seva Kendra office and continue to be covered under the Guwahati Passport office, other small towns in the country like Bareily, Shimla, Raipur, Dehradun etc have their own passport offices. The Passport Seva Project (PSP) was launched across the country starting from 2010 in order to meet the growing needs of passport demand from the public and went for a complete overhaul with technology being increasingly used to speed up the process of application and take away the role of middlemen in the form of travel agents and agencies making a business out of passport applications. The PSP identified under the National e-Governance plan was launched under a Public-Private-Partnership (PPP) platform with Tata Consultancy Services as Service Provider. Under the PPP mode, the Ministry of External Affairs retained its role of verification, granting, issuing/revocation/impounding of passports thereby making the Ministry in charge of data and information while the service of filing, documentation in the office, process of application from one level to another, online submission of particulars, client service, staffing etc were provided by Tata Consultancy.
The introduction of the PPP model took away the unwelcome practice of application files getting delayed in between tables, which was the norm in the earlier system where the passport procedure was directly under the Government. The demand and expectations of passport applicants for a speedy process on one hand and the tendency of delays on the other hand led to the ferment of a breeding ground for corruption and the entry of middle men. Earlier, the Regional Passport Office at Guwahati functioned just like any other Government office: if you knew someone high up in the office or knew someone who knew someone high-up or if you paid someone at the office for chai-paani the Passport process could be speeded up. It also meant that travel agents with their network of people in Guwahati could well play the shots by charging hiked up rates. At one time, a minimum of Rs 3000 would be charged for a normal Passport process when the standard rate was Rs1500/- with the rates going up astronomically if one wanted a passport on a Tatkal (urgent) basis. The advent of the new and improved hassle free passport application system as it exists now is a boon for many but for the people of Manipur and the other states without a passport office, it has unfortunately meant more hassles since the new system entails bio-metric fingerprinting and being photographed at the office by the staff for which the applicant has to be present at the passport office in Guwahati. This means that all applicants have to first take an online appointment and then travel all the way to Guwahati, thereby involving having to spend money and the time to travel and then get back.
The talks of opening up a passport office in the state have been doing the rounds since the last five to six years. An official at the Regional Passport office in Guwahati said that even with the MEA taking a pro-active interest in opening up such offices in all the states of the NE region, the responses from the state Government have not been serious enough. Five to six years of repeating an unfulfilled promise shows just how serious the Government is about translating their words into action. The people deserve to be told about the reasons for the delay and the lack of seriousness over setting up a passport office in the state given the fact that it would not only take away the inconveniences that passport applicants of the state are facing now but also providing job openings for staffing the office. The Government cannot continue to stretch its promise when all it needs to do is get into action mode in real earnest.