Has the public-private –partnership between Tata Consultancy Services and the Passport Office become a joke in Pune, as utter chaos and harassment of passport applicants prevail. To add to the fury, the Passport Office is also rejecting RTI applications on flimsy grounds
If you are an upright citizen who would not use the service of agents to get your passport, you would be in a dock, particularly if it happens to be the Passport Office at Pune. Allegedly, a deep nexus between the officials and agents is resulting in harassment to citizens.
Young Sachin Bhasme is an architect by profession and has consciously not used services of any agent even for his driving license. However, in the case of his passport, when he applied with the same principles of lawfulness, it has backfired. Since applying for a passport on 20 September 2012, he has been running from the Passport Office to the Tata Consultancy Services offices to police stations. He has even made attempts to file RTI applications but all in vain.
His story goes like this: After applying online for his passport fee receipt no PN1F12301732862) and going through his appointment at the Tata Consultancy Services (TCS) offices (which is a front end operations partner with the Ministry of External Affairs under the public-private-partnership (PPP)) for verification of his documents. He got an e-acknowledgement letter from Pune’s Regional Passport Office on the same day, stating “submitted successfully; Application status: Pre-Police Verification Mode”.
After the requisite 45 days, he did not receive his passport. He waited patiently and visited the Passport Office on 15 December 2012. The Officials told him that police verification is pending. He went to the relevant police station but his application had not reached. Says Bhasme, “I sifted through all the passport applications that were received by the police station, but mine was missing.’’ He was then asked to go to the Passport Division at the Pune Police Commissionerate headquarters. There too his application had not arrived.
Read Are information commissioners killing the RTI Act? by Vinita Deshmukh
Says Bhasme, “I went back to the Passport Office in the first week of January with my RTI application to know the status of my passport. One officer who named herself as Seeta asked me not to invoke RTI and that, I should wait for 10 more days, assuring me that I would receive my passport.’’
Predictably, there was no news. So Bhasme again visited the Passport Office with his RTI application on 16 January 2013. He wrote his application and under Section 6 of the RTI Act demanding “the daily progress made on my application so far; when did my application reach which officer, for how long; according to information given in your official website (http://www.passportindia.gov.in/AppOnlineProject/online/faqWhatHasChanged) my passport should have been made in 30 to 45 days as per old system and three days as per current system. However, it is more than 3 months and 28 days now. Please give names and designations of officials who were supposed to take action on my application and who have not done so; what action would be taken against these officials for not doing their work and for causing harassment to the public? By when would I get my passport now.”
However, his RTI application was rejected by the Passport Officer saying that they do not accept the fee of Rs10 in cash and have asked him to give a DD. This is in gross violation of the application fee norms put up on the Ministry of External Affairs website ’’http://www.passportindia.gov.in/AppOnlineProject/pdf/RTI.pdf, which clearly states that fees can be given in cash – “2. Application Fee: The application for obtaining information under sub-section (1) of section 6 of RTI Act, 2005, must be accompanied by prescribed application fee drawn in favour of Accounts Officer, Ministry of External Affairs payable at New Delhi, or the Regional Passport Officer, payable at the place where the application is being submitted. At present the application fee, which is subject to change from time to time, is as under:-Application fee: Rs. 10/- (Rupees ten only). Mode of payment: By cash against proper receipt or by demand draft/ banker's cheque / Indian Postal Order.”
Says a harassed Bhasme, “The TCS office does not even entertain your complaints. They say that their responsibility is over once they forward your application to the Passport Office. Any queries regarding the status or reasons of delay of your passport are not answered and I was told to sort it out with the Passport office.’’
This is in complete contrast to the press release dated October 13, 2008 issued by TCS when it entered into PPP in 2008 (http://www.tcs.com/news_events/press_releases/Pages/GOI-awards-Passport-Automation-to-TCS.aspx ). Tanmoy Chakrabarty, Vice President, Global Government Business Group, TCS has quoted as committing: “A call center would be established to help the applicants with information regarding passport procedures and the status of submitted requests. Grievances would be tracked and closed. Passport Facilitation Centers (PFCs) will be the primary hubs supporting all activities including biometric capture, photograph, payment and verification and issue of passports in the presence of applicants for most cases… Complete tracking of the process would be possible in the system. Police nodal offices will be facilitated by TCS personnel and it will be possible to download passport forms there directly, thus eliminating any logistic delay.’’
The press release tom-tommed this PPP as “India's Largest Mission Critical E-governance Project of over Rs10,000 million; Passports to be delivered after three working days post police-verification.’’ What is the use if the TCS is merely acting as a courier service to the Passport office?
Read about an RTI workshop organized by Moneylife Foundation on using specific orders of the CIC to file an effective RTI applications conducted by noted RTI activist, Shailesh Gandhi
Bhasme’s case is not a solitary one. On various e-complaint boards, citizens applying for their passports from Pune’s Regional Passport Office are undergoing mental harassment. One of the postings amongst many others gives an idea:
As for the TCS, S Ramadorai, the then CEO and Managing Director, had said, “We believe that this mission mode project of national importance will make delivery of passport services truly world class in nature. This project reiterates TCS’ commitment to help government deliver citizen services more efficiently through technology and process improvements and will transform passport service delivery to the citizens of India.”
Nearly one year down the line since TCS’s Pune front-end office has become operational, efficient passport delivery is a distant dream.
I am a subscriber of Moneylife magazine since long. The newsletter is also good; I never miss reading them. I appreciate the efforts of Moneylife Foundation to throw light on many investors’ issues and other issues. I would like to share my experience with TataSky which may also be the case of many other DTH subscribers.
A retirement product should be less volatile, small on charges, big on tax benefits and flexible after retirement. What does the NPS score on these parameters?
The New Pension System (NPS) was compulsorily thrust upon government employees in 2004. It has also been thrown open for subscription to the public four years back, with some incentives from the Government of India. All subscribers registered in FY2010-11 were eligible for getting a contribution of Rs1,000 per year from the government for four years beginning the same year. The NPS is being pushed as an ideal retirement planning product. Is it?
Volatile returns not acceptable for a pension planning product
Moneylife had earlier written on how returns from NPS are hugely volatile, even from bond schemes. An analysis of the performance of pension fund managers in the New Pension System (NPS) shows huge volatility in the returns of various schemes and this could put off many savers.
Over the period 2009-11, returns of the schemes for the unorganised sector have varied from 23.51% to -3.15%. This surprising volatility in the returns of NPS, when the investments are supposed to be strait-jacketed, has scared away savers, who simply cannot associate volatility with a pension plan. This factor alone has ensured that NPS for the voluntary sector has remained a non-starter. What ultimately happens would be known only after 30-odd years.
While it is true that NPS returns are market-determined and therefore bound to be volatile, Indian savers, who largely shun equities and mutual funds, would not want to be part of something like this, for a very long time.
High charges for small investors kill the investable chunk
The next issue is the bigger proportional costs for smaller investor. Other than the asset servicing charges and the Investment management fee which are calculated on a percentage basis, all other charges are fixed per transaction. This would take away a large chunk of money from small time investors.
The table of charges given in the original draft offer document shows that if an investor invests Rs6,000 annually in a single investment, a total of Rs311.50 would be charged, which is over 5.1% of the amount to be invested in the first year. This is the most conservative estimate of per transaction charges. It would increase the overall charges, if the number of transactions made is more than one.
Arbitrarily increased charges fuel instability
After the initial euphoria of charges being low enough, the Pension Fund Regulatory & Development Authority (PFRDA) increased the Investment Management fee from 0.0009% to 0.25% of the investment made. This makes it a total of Rs326, as charges for investing the same Rs6,000 in the first year, that is, 5.4% of the amount to be invested, most conservatively. Besides that, PFRDA also permitted the fund managers to revise Investment Management Fee once a year, each year. To bring the charges down to 1% of the amount to be invested, you will have to invest a minimum if Rs31,000 in the first year (most conservatively, to save on costs per transaction). Anything below that would be costly in comparison with comparable products.
Annuity ties down post retirement income
The next worrisome point? NPS does not let you withdraw all your earnings—ever. According to the offer document of the NPS, “On attaining the age of 60 years, you will be required to compulsorily annuitize at least 40% of your pension wealth and the remaining 60% can be withdrawn as a lump sum or in a phased manner; in case, you opt for a phased withdrawal and if you withdraw any time before 60 years of age, you will have to compulsorily annuitize 80% of your accumulated pension wealth. The remaining 20% can be withdrawn as a lump sum.” When you retire, would you want to invest compulsorily in the annuity product that gives you a taxable return of 7% at an average?
Taxable withdrawal reduces money when it is required the most
At present, the tax treatment for contribution made in Tier I account is EET, “Exempted-Exempted-Taxed” i.e. the amount contributed is entitled for deduction from gross total income upto Rs1 lakh under Sec 80C. The appreciation accrued on the contribution and the amount used by the subscriber to buy the annuity is not taxable, only the amount withdrawn by the subscriber after the age of 60 years is taxable. NPS is proposed to be included under EEE category.
More than three years ago, we were excited by the NPS. But continuous tinkering and no PFRDA Act have changed the scenario. Unless the government addresses all the issues we have detailed, stay away from NPS.