Those were the best of the times; those were the worst of the times! My batch-mates at Tata Steel were going to Europe on business trips and I was without a passport! Then one fine day I learnt that one of my colleagues could not go to a planned business trip to Germany because he also did not have the passport (Poor fellow!) and the opportunity was passed on to another colleague with passport! It was then that I realized the importance of having a passport.
But this was not the first time that the thought of getting a passport had crossed my mind. I had tried half-heartedly to get my passport at IIT Roorkee during sophomore year. The supervisor of one of our hostels was a certified agent and everyone went to him to get the passport. So, I went to him with filled form and the documents. But he asked for one more document (birth certificate, if my memory serves me right!) which I didn’t have and I came back. By the time I received my birth certificate, I had already forgotten about the idea of getting a passport! You know how lazy I can be! Anyways, since I wasn’t aiming for foreign internships or foreign jobs or higher studies, I didn’t have any motivation!
Fast forward 4 years, I was working at Kalinganagar Project of Tata Steel and my colleagues were going to Europe on business trips! I checked the requirements for passport on the website of passport department of Govt of India and after a lot of deliberations (an hour or half of staring at website!) I concluded that getting a passport under ‘Tatkal’ scheme, though costlier, was easier. I checked the document adviser online and figured out that in addition to the documents required for a passport application under normal scheme, one needed to submit an affidavit for applications under tatkal scheme. So, I applied for the passport under tatkal scheme, got the affidavit made, and booked an appointment online.
I reached the passport office on the date and time indicated in the appointment confirmation. Since exact date and time was mentioned in the confirmation, I was expecting people to be waiting to receive me (well, not exactly! but didn’t expect a long line either!) at the time indicated! I didn’t have the slightest idea about the number of applicants and the processing times and that led me to believe that there were people to take care of you at the time allotted to you. So, when I reached the passport office, I was surprised to see a line outside the main gate. It was about 11:10am and my appointment was at 11:15am. So I rushed to the front of that line and asked the security guard to let me go in as I had an appointment at 11:15am! The security guard said something in Odia which I didn’t understand (Had been only 3 months in Odisha. I could read the alphabets though :P) but from his expressions, it was evident that he wasn’t very happy with my adventurous ways! I tried to explain him in Hindi, but he kept replying in Odia and finally I was able to make out that all those people had appointment at 11am or 11:15am and the time actually meant nothing. It was just an entry pass! So, I went at the back of the line and after spending 4-5 minutes in the line in scorching sun, I entered the passport office.
There was no guide map or any such thing which could help an incoming person navigate better. So, I went straight to the helpdesk (I thanked God for showing me one, I shouldn’t have!!) Thankfully the person (let’s call him Mr H) on the other side understood Hindi! Here is (a translation of) my best memory of our conversation:
H: Han, kya chahiye? (What do you want?)
(He gestures and I hand him over the documents. He checks the documents)
H: Kaagaz poora nahi hai. (Your papers are not complete!)
Me: Kya nahi hai? (What’s missing?)
H: Tatkal me Magistrate se affidavit karana padta hai. (For Tatkal scheme, you need an additional document which is some kind of affidavit signed by Tehsildar or some Magistrate) -To be honest, I don’t remember the exact details.
Me: Document Adviser me to aisa kuch nahi likha. Usi se dekh ke saare kaagaz laya tha. (But that’s not mentioned on document adviser! I’ve brought all the documents mentioned on the website.)
He was like:
Mr H asked where was it mentioned. So I told him that it was mentioned on the website and tried to take out the laptop from my bag to show it to him. To my surprise, he started calling security! I asked him what was wrong. He said I could be a terrorist! (Right, who else will bring a laptop with him? Laptops are used exclusively for activating bombs! And hey you know what; terrorists do it in full public view!)
So, I closed my laptop, went out, opened my laptop again, searched for the appropriate appellate authority and called him. Turned out, it was someone from Delhi office (Let’s call him Mr D) who centrally looked after all complaints. Mr D asked me to go to Assistant Passport Officer (APO) and assured that he would understand.
APO office looked more like archival section and I had a hard time finding the APO (let’s call him Mr F) amidst the stacks of files. My interaction with him (I doubt whether he really was the APO or the APO had outsourced his job to someone else!) was much more eventful than I had imagined!
(After I explain him the situation, detailing the documents I’d brought and the list mentioned on document adviser)
F: Nahi ho payega. (Not possible!)
Me: Kya nahi ho payega? (What is not possible?)
F (Spitting Paan in a corner): Passport re, aur kya! (Pasport, what else!)
Me: kyon? (Why?)
F: Kaagaz incomplete achi (Papers are not complete)
Me: But document adviser ke hisaab se to complete hai? (But it’s complete in all respects as per the document adviser)
(no reply from F)
So, I called Mr D again and explained him the situation. He asked me to hand over the phone to Mr F. But Mr F refused to take the call. When I told this to Mr D, his reply was ironic – “Hum kya kar sakte hain idhar Dilli me baith ke!” (What can I do, sitting in Delhi!). I thought an office called Central Appellate Authority will have some authority – Stupid me!
As I was trying to figure out my next move, Mr F said to me: Ja, RTI kar de ja ke. Nahi to consumer court chala ja. (Go, file an RTI. Or better go to consumer court)
Me: Han wo bhi karenge, filhaal idhar ke incharge ka room kidhar hai wo bata dijiye! (Yes, will do that in due course of time. For the time being, show me the way to the room of the in-charge of this place)
(I said this because by now I had realized that he wasn’t in-charge. The in-charge of a Govt office like this will have a room at least!)
F: Kya, complain karega! Jao, RPO ke paas, 3rd floor last room! (Going to complain? Go to RPO, last room on 3rd floor)
Me: Aapnak Madad paai Dhanawaad. (Thank you for your help!)
(He was surprised! He didn’t expect me to speak Odia. I smiled and rushed primarily because this was almost all of Odia I could speak!)
On reaching outside the room of RPO, I was asked to wait for 5 minutes. After 5 minutes, when I entered the room, I was surprised to find everything in the room arranged properly, including the tabletop items! The occupant of the room (Let’s call her Ms R) also seemed to do perfect justice to the room. She listened to me patiently and then said with a bit of regret that due to some recent unwanted incidents, she had taken an ad-hoc decision to demand an extra document for tatkal passports in Odisha only.
Me: But what about document adviser? What purpose does it serve then?
R: Show me the document adviser.
Me: Are you sure I can open my laptop?
(She looked surprised and I explained what happened downstairs! We had a laugh!)
R: Not a problem in my room!
I showed her the document adviser. She looked at it, then looked at it again! Then she navigated through some links, some fine prints and finally showed me a line in disclaimer which read, “RPO can specify additional requirements in his/her area as deemed appropriate!”
Me: So, where is the document listing specific requirements for Odisha?
R: We don’t put all notices in public for security reasons.
Me (thinking): Are you kidding me! Security Reasons!
Me: Then how are the applicants supposed to know the requirements?
R: You have to ask the passport office.
Me: I tried calling the number mentioned on website at least 10 times. No one picked.
R: I’ll look into that. One can also visit the passport office to know the procedure.
Me: It can be difficult for someone from Jajpur to come to Bhubaneswar (it’s more than 100kms) once to know the procedure and then again for application.
R: Okay, though I can’t waive off the requirement for you, I can convert your Tatkal application to normal application and give you instant appointment. This will save you some time and you can expect your passport in about a month. Or else, you could get that affidavit and come again with tatkal application.
One month wait seemed better option than coming back to that place. I didn’t have any urgent need of the passport anyway! So, I opted for conversion to normal application. While she was writing the instruction for the assistants to do the needful, I decided to enlighten myself on special requirements.
Me: Thank you so much! By the way, why this extra requirement when you already take the PAN card and Driving License or other equivalent documents?
R: We can’t trust these documents as they can easily be counterfeited.
Me: And a local magistrate’s signature/seal can’t be?
R: We call him to confirm.
Me: And he is incorruptible? He never makes mistakes?
R: It’s a complex issue. You won’t understand!
By this time, she was done signing the slip. I thanked her, smiled and left the room.
There were three section I needed to go to – A. Document Verification B. Application & C. Granting. (Well, the names might have been different, but you get the idea what they were)
So, I went to section A where Mr A had a brief look at my documents and demanded for 10th passing certificate.
Me: Why is it required?
A: As birth certificate..
Me: For anyone born after 1989, 10th pass certificate is not a valid document for date of birth. Instead, a birth certificate from municipality is required, which is duly attached.
A: ummm, for non-ECR (Emigration Check Requirement)..
Me: I’ve attached my B tech degree which is an acceptable document for that.
A: 10th nahi kiya kya? (Have you not passed 10th Standard?)
Me: B tech to 10th ke baad hi kiya na. (I didn’t do B Tech without passing 10th Standard!)
A: To de do na 10th ka certificate! (Then why don’t you give the certificate for the same?)
Me: Jab jarurat hi nahi hai to kyon dun? (Why should I, if it is not required?)
A: (returning my documents) Nahi banega passport fir. (Then forget about passport!)
Me: (thinking aloud) Passport to banwa ke rahunga! (I will get my passport!)
I went again to that 3rd floor corner room! Unfortunately Madam RPO had gone for lunch. I decided to sit outside her room. To my surprise, she returned within half an hour and asked what the problem was. I explained the situation. She called the concerned person, explained to him in detail and then wrote on my application, “please accept the application after normal checks”
I went back to section A where Mr A cleared my application and then I moved on to section B. A certain Mr B wanted to check the documents again. Again he raised the issue of 10th certificate. I told him what happened at section A and also showed him the note by RPO. But he wasn’t satisfied. His argument being, “the note says, accept the application AFTER NORMAL CHECKS. 10th certificate is part of normal check!”
I know what you are thinking! Yes, I went again to the 3rd floor corner room. Unfortunately Madam was in meeting with someone. But fortunately she saw that it was me and called me in. I told her about the “new” problem. This time she clearly wrote, “Since the applicant was born after 1989, municipality issued birth certificate is sufficient. Also, since the applicant is producing B Tech certificate, it is sufficient for non-ECR status. Please process the application without 10th certificate!”
This note did the trick and I quickly moved from counter to counter for further processes. Finally, I reached the end of granting section and guess who was there! Mr F, the APO! Apparently, he also had to sign somewhere on my application! He saw the multiple notes by the RPO and said with a smile, “Madam boli hain to karna hi hai!” (Have to sign it as Madam has directed to!)
When I finally got the acknowledgement letter of my application, I noticed the police verification section said, ‘Post verification’. Now this was a problem because post verification is applicable only for some special type of applications (such as ward of diplomats etc) and I belonged to no such category. I pointed this out to the granting officer. He immediately hand corrected on my acknowledgement letter and signed, but it took further 40-45 minutes to rectify the mistake in the system!
Finally, I was told my application was complete in all respects! So, I went again to 3rd floor corner room! She was surprised and asked, “Ab kya ho gaya!” (What now!). I just thanked her and got out of the passport office as soon as I could. I looked at my watch. It was already 4:30pm and I had missed the lunch! So, I ate 20 golgappas just outside the passport office and then started for railway station with a sense of accomplishment!
PS: You might think it was the perfect happy ending, but clearly it was not! Wait for part 2 to know what happened next!
Lesson Learnt – World is full of idiots. Be extra cautious to save yourselves some pain!