Thursday, 2 February 2017

Passport renewal

Let me give credit where it is due. At least one department of the government has impressed me with its service.  I know these opening lines of mine is enough to generate interest among the readers. Now after reading up to this point many will say - At last, the cynic is turning a new leaf. 
Well, whatever that is, I must say that the issue of Passports have become much easier now and surprisingly less of a hassle than AADHAR, Voter or Ration Card. That also tells something, which I will not elaborate further here. Because when praising the government initiative after many days, almost once in a blue moon, let me effusive about it without any study of social relevance. 
My old passport was due for renewal in August 2017. But very much against my lazy habit of procrastination, I decided to renew it as a part of my New Year's to-dos ( a secret list of resolutions including one to be more proactive). I logged on to the website and registered myself on the 16th January.  That day itself, I applied for the renewal of my passport online. It was a smooth process including payment of the fee for Rs 1500 and culminating in an appointment at the Passport Seva Kendra, Thane. 
My previous passport was issued by the Worli Passport office because my address then was from Mumbai City. Now that I live in Navi Mumbai, there was this nagging doubt about the address proof and other such things. I also noted that they didn't ask fo my photograph. 
Well, I prepared myself well and armed with all my documents, their photocopies in duplicate, a variety of photographs in different sizes and a gluestick, I arrived at the PSK, Thane. The appointment was at 1.00 p.m. and I was present there by 12.40 p.m. The first thing I noticed, reaching there was a small queue outside the entrance. On inquiry, I was given to understand that this was the queue for people who had the appointment for the 12.45.p.m. slot. So that meant I was early. Good, but I wondered, what would happen in the rainy season? Will the people still have to queue outside?
Soon the gatekeeper allowed the batch of 1.00 p.m. to enter. As he let us in, we hurried into a hall and stood in smaller queues before four counters. Young people manned the counters and I noticed that they were smiling to the people who approached them at the counter. This itself gives a positivity. The girl who was at the counter before which I queued up, checked my documents, entered them in her computer system and then made a neatly stapled bunch of the documents with my old passport and returned back them to me after issuing a paper token. Only the AADHAR and PAN cards were required along with my old passport.  She informed me that I will now have to go through a three-stage verification at A, B, C counters and guided to me to a door.
The security person standing at the door checked the token and let me in. Another hall with more chairs to sit. People were seated there with their gaze towards three midsized TV screens where the token numbers were shown against allotted counters.  after about 10 minutes, I was called. This was also another young lady who asked me to sit in a chair across the counter. As I handed my documents to her, I noticed that her computer screen, which also faced me partially, was showing the application form filled up by me. There was also a camera facing me This lady now checked my AADHAR card and PAN Card again and then asked me to look at the camera and clicked my picture. I was quite impressed. This also answered my nagging doubt about the photo as she showed me my photograph. It was of course not like the Uttamkumar cum James Bond resemblance that I think I am, but much better than my AADHAR and PAN photos. Then I was asked to provide the fingerprints, all of them, on a scanner. she asked me if I would like to avail the SMS service. This entailed a payment of forty rupees for which a receipt was immediately generated. I was now allowed to go back and wait my turn for B and C counters.
After a slightly longish wait, my token was shown on the screen and I was called by the user to the designated counter. This time a typical middle-aged male with government service written all over his grim face, without any smile. I realised that the pretty young things were probably outsourced resources and the proper screening will be done now. But not much of it happened, anyway. I was asked the reason of my application and had to repeat my address. And that was all. The next screening was done by a lady, obviously senior and probably the Regional Passport Officer or the deputy. She was kind with me and informed me that there was no need for police verification. Then she cancelled my existing Passport and returned it to me. 
After all the three screening processes, there was the last queue where my token was taken back and an acknowledgement of passport application received was handed formally. I was told that since there was no police verification involved, I could expect my passport within ten days or even earlier. I could not believe this. 
As I came out of the Passport office, I noted that it was about 3.00 p.m. So it had taken me just under 2 hours to renew my passport without any hassle, tension or sweat. Good job, I said in my mind. My happiness increased as I received an SMS informing me about the acceptance of my application. Next day they informed me that my Passport was being printed. The day after was the Republic day and I left for a weekend outing on the 27th. The SMS received on that day informed me that the passport was sent by Speed post with the related tracking number. 
On 28th, the postman visited my address and finding it locked, left a small memo and informed my neighbour about the delivery. I visited the Post office today and got my passport sealed in a packet by showing my AADHAR Card.  It actually took 12 days for my passport to be issued and delivered after logging on to the internet portal. Why I am writing this in so much detail is to record the efficiency of the department. Maybe this will still not satisfy many people. But I am fully satisfied.  
Full marks then and thumbs up. With technology, planning and a little innovation, even government departments can beat the private and international standards of service. And when the government shows that it cares for the common citizen, the citizen will bless the government. Their is no politics involved here.

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