Saturday, November 1, 2014

New Passport - New Experience

My passport was due to expire and I wanted to get a new one. To get a new passport I had to visit the passport office. By past experience I knew that the Panaji passport office is a nightmare. The nightmare usually went like this.

You enter the passport office after managing to shoo away the touts hovering around the entrance and you find yourself in a hall with three or four counters. None of them have any sign boards on them but each one has a line of about twenty people in front of it. You ask few people standing in the queue why they are there and each one gives you a different reason. You try to go near the window of the counter and find out if that is the line you are required to join. The window is placed too high and if you are of my height you have to jump up and call for attention. You make a few attempts. The fellow inside the counter ignores you and the fellow outside, waiting for his work to be done, is annoyed with you. You give up, randomly select one of the three lines and wait. After about an hour you reach the window. You stand on your toes  (which is very inconvenient) and tell the man that you are there to get a new passport and he directs you to the next line to obtain your forms.

You stand in the next line and inch forward till you have only two people in front of you. Then the clock on the wall strikes one and it is lunch break. You stand in front of the closed counter and spend the lunch break hungry, cursing the passport, passport office and everything else that comes to your mind. The counter opens at quarter past two, fifteen minutes late. You get your form at three and go home.

You follow the printed instructions to a dot and fill your form, attach photo copies of the all the documents mentioned, paste your photograph at three places, staple additional copies, and go back to the passport office with your form. Your luck is with you and you select the right line at first attempt. After an hour in the line you stand on your toes again and push your form in. The person, without even touching your papers, asks you to put them is a file, tie them with a tag and bring them back. Fortunately for you the file and the tag are available in the office itself for sale and you fulfill the requirement. But you have lost your place in the queue and start at the back again. 

You reach the counter after another hour and push your form in confidently because you have followed the instructions perfectly. “Attach copy of ration card, paste another photograph at the back of the form, get all the copies signed by a gazetted officer and enclose a self addressed stamped envelope” is what you hear. You tell the fellow that those instructions were not printed on the form and that it clearly said that the copies only have to be self attested.  “That is why I am telling you now. Complete the form and bring it” comes the reply. You feel like throwing the bunch on his face and going home but you can’t do that. You follow all his instructions, go back another day, stand in many more lines for verification, payment of fees, submission, so on and so forth, tolerate and overcome all the hurdles thrown at you from various counters (all the time fighting other enraged and impatient people who try to butt in and complete their work) and heave a deep sigh of relief when you are done.

Since I remembered this experience vividly I was very much wary of another visit to the passport office. But you can’t just evade the issue. If your passport expired you have to get a new one. I gingerly stepped into the office, now renamed ‘Passport Seva Kendra’- PSK for short.  A security guard at the door stopped me. I told him that I was there for a new passport. “Go to the second floor” he showed me the stairs. Went up and found myself in an air conditioned hall having a counter boldly labeled “ENQUIRIES” and  two people in front of it. I joined the line and was face to face with the fellow manning the counter in three minutes flat. “Fill the form online, pay the fee through credit card or net banking, take a printout of the receipt and bring it along with your old passport on the date shown on the receipt. Are there any changes?” I said that my address has changed. “Then attach a copy of your voter card or any other proof of address and bring the originals for verification”.

Filled the form online, paid the fee through net banking and printed the receipt. It said - Appointment 12.15 PM, Date 30.10.2014. Reporting time 12.00. I was at the PSK at 11.45. This time I was prepared.  My bag contained, apart from the print out and copies of the required documents in a file, everything from my birth certificate to the relieving order I had received on my retirement. And since the instructions clearly said ‘Do not attach photographs, photograph will be taken at the PSK’ I carried four photographs, glue and stapler. The guard at the door looked at my print out and asked me to sit in the waiting area and wait for my turn. Since my appointment was at 12.15, I had carried my lunch which I intended eating at 1 PM and a book which would last at least 2-3 hours. I settled in a corner and opened the book.

I had not even reached the third line when I heard the announcement “Everyone with 12.00 noon reporting time please proceed to the second floor”. On the second floor there was just one lady in front of the ‘pre verification’ counter and I was the second. Pre verification took all of two minutes and I was directed to collect a token from the token counter situated next to the PV counter. I entered the next room carrying my token which was numbered N71 and gave it to the person manning the door. He looked at the token and said “Go to processing counter B5”.

B5 had a pleasant mannered girl who took my photograph and finger prints. She  gave me a print out of the application that I had filled on line and asked me to check the details again.  Then she put the form along with other documents in a file, punched it with a punch (usually they keep a rusted nail for the purpose ) tied it with a tag, handed it to me and asked me to wait in the waiting area for my turn for verification.  In less than five minutes the big screen in the waiting area beeped and flashed ‘N71 - counter C3’. Another courteous man in Counter C3, the verification counter, verified the papers and I was back in the waiting area in no time.  After ten minutes the screen again flashed ‘N71 - APO 1’. Assistant passport officer -1 took less than a minute to cancel my old passport, put his seal, hand me an acknowledgement and say “Exit please”. 

At the exit I was given a feedback form in which I ticked ‘Excellent’ in front of all the coloumns without reading them, exited highly excited, drove home and ate my cold packed lunch with pleasure.

I had heard about such services in other countries from my friends and relatives and I used to feel very very inferior thinking about our establishments. The pleasant experience at the PSK Panaji made me feel proud of our government establishments for once and I decided to record it. I do not know who is behind this and how they could bring about the change. Anyway, I congratulate them and wish the rest of our country functioned like the PSK!

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