Pune Passport Office threatens passport holders, with a notice to explain ‘adverse’ police verification!
Over the past fortnight, hundreds of passport applicants from Pune have received show cause notices from the Regional Passport Office (RPO) asking them to re-do their police verification. While many of them have already undergone that process, RPO insists it does not show in the police records sent to it. What is more shocking is the threatening language used in these notices.
One of them is a young woman, Rucha Bhandare, who had got her passport in 2012. She says she had spent three hours in the police station for this verification. Noted activist Sheila Christian and her husband too stated that they had fulfilled the police verification, also in 2012, and they too have received this letter. “How is it possible to stand in the line again; my husband would be unable to go through his, due to his health.”
The generic letter (show cause notice) signed by Pune’s Regional Passport Officer, sent to many passport applicants, without any public awareness campaign, had sent shock waves, reads:
“This is with reference to a receipt of an adverse police verification report corresponding to your application of Passport issue no xxxxxxxxxxxxxxx.”
You are therefore called upon to provide a suitable explanation and submit a fresh application with correct details. Please note that you are required to publish a proper explanation regarding circumstances under which you had suppressed the material information in the passport application and obtained the above said passport.
Also state why action should not be taken to impound the Passport no xxxxxx of the Passports Act 1967 and section 12 (1) (b) of the Passports Act 1967 should not be initiated against you.”
Generally, post-police verification is done for those who have applied under 'Tatkal' scheme where the applicant gets the passport within a week. However, the letter from RPO was sent even to those who had applied under the normal procedure. Nervous applicants have been making a beeline to the Passport Office, where they received rude treatment and no answers.
When yours truly, in the capacity of Convener of the Pune Passport Grievance Forum, took it up with Atul Gotsurve, RPO, Pune, stating how the Passport Office could take people unawares and what was the explanation for sending it to applicants who have already undergone police verification. He insisted, “it (the police verification) does not show in the (RPO) records though.” So, who bungled then? The police?
Thereafter, the RPO issued a press release stating: “A special drive has been undertaken by the Regional Passport Office, Pune to send show cause notices to passport holders whose police verification has been received as ‘not recommended’ (Adverse). The adverse police recommendation could be for several reasons like applicant was not available for police inquiry, passport applicant gave false information, court case pending, etc.”
“Adverse police report in the computer system can lead to a passport holder facing problems at some inopportune moment, e.g. if the passport holder loses the passport in a foreign country, then the Indian embassy there cannot issue him a new passport easily, because his police report in the computer system is adverse. Hence, it is better to have the papers cleared. An additional counter at the inquiry window to help the people, who have received the show cause notice has been opened at Senapati Road Passport Office, Pune.”
A subsequent press release from the RPO stated “After taking passport holder's response and after checking the details in the computer system, the police inquiry is reinitiated and some cases where blatant suppression of information is detected then strict action like imposition of financial penalty or cancellation of passport or lodging of FIR, or all the three actions may be taken.”
RTI activist Qaneez Sukhrani is not convinced with the ‘special drive’ theory.“By labelling this a ‘special drive’, the RPO is trying to divert attention from their knee-jerk reaction on discovery of irregularity in their own system, some of it, more than five years ago. If this verification was not done, then who is at default? The RPO, Police or the Passport holder? How dare RPO issue show cause notices at random to passport holders for their own and Police Department’s fault? I know several people, some of them senior citizens, who have gone into complete panic mode at being accused of ‘suppressing’ information by RPO without citing any specific reason. If I had been one of the recipients, I would have sent the RPO a legal notice next morning.”
When contacted, Gotsurve reiterates that, they are acting upon only those names whose police verification has not been done and says he has reviewed the tone of the show cause notice by making it more polite. “Now we are sending letters, asking them first to email their reply to our letter or then send a letter explaining their stand on the police verification. If required we will call them to the office. However, for those who have indeed suppressed information, they would not be spared,” the RPO says.
The fact remains, there has been no transparency regarding this issue. The Pune Passport Grievance Forum (PPGF) has requested the RPO to provide data on how many such show cause notices have been sent and put up details of this ‘special drive’ on their website, which is so interactive now.
The PPGF suggests that the affected passport applicants should file RTI with the RPO as well as the relevant police station to check their record of police verification. For any help the applicants, who have received such notices from the RPO can write to me at [email protected]
(Vinita Deshmukh is consulting editor of Moneylife, an RTI activist and convener of the Pune Metro Jagruti Abhiyaan. She is the recipient of prestigious awards like the Statesman Award for Rural Reporting which she won twice in 1998 and 2005 and the Chameli Devi Jain award for outstanding media person for her investigation series on Dow Chemicals. She co-authored the book “To The Last Bullet – The Inspiring Story of A Braveheart - Ashok Kamte” with Vinita Kamte and is the author of “The Mighty Fall”.)