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Exactly a week after activists meeting with TCS top brass, one seasoned verification officer has been appointed for at Counter A, the online appointment period is extended to one week and there are prominent display boards that provides list of documents required for a passport. One display also warns agents and touts against malpractices
The Pune passport campaign steered by Moneylife since the last four weeks received a fillip with action taken by the Tata Consultancy Services (TCS) to smoothen some of the pain points of passport applicants through several measures.
The appointment of a seasoned Verification Officer (VO) from 19th March, before Counter ‘A’, where documents are blindly scanned; extending the online appointment date to a week instead of a day; putting up boards to warn against illegal passport agents and the process of making prominent boards to list the documents required for various categories of passports are some of the positive and welcome steps taken by TCS.
Sucheta Dalal, managing editor of Moneylife, had initiated a meeting on 13th March, at the Moneylife Foundation office in Mumbai, with top brass of TCS. The Tata group company is in a public-private-partnership with the passport division of the ministry of external affairs (MEA). Discussions revolved around various problems faced by passport applicants in Pune, which were highlighted through a series of articles in Moneylife, since the last four weeks. The issues were comprehensively put forth by this writer, before senior most officials of TCS present there—Tanmoy Chakrabarty, VP and Head, Government Industry Solutions Unit; Rajesh Dogra, head, All India Operations, Passport Seva Project; Shalini Mathur, Project Director, Passport Seva Project; Pradipta Bagchi, Vice-President, Corporate Communications; and Harsha Ramachandra, Senior Manager, Corporate Communications.
Exactly a week later, on 19th March, Shalini Mathur, Project Director, TCS (Passport Seva Project), has informed Moneylife of action taken at the Passport Seva Kendra in Mundhwa, Pune and of the progress of the 11 crucial issues that were discussed at the meeting to ease the problems and harassment of passport applicants. Mathur stated that, “The MEA and TCS have been working together to bring out various improvements and ease the passport issuance process for Pune citizens.”
With six districts coming under the Pune Division, the TCS’s Passport Seva Kendra (PSK) receives around 30,000 applications every month, the number having grown by over 300% since the last eight years. Last year, 1.80 lakh passports were issued but for many of the passports received, there are experiences of harassment and difficulties faced by passport applicants, due to some glitches in the administration; menace of passport agents; failure to procure online appointments; and harassment of verification officers (VOs) in turning back applicants again and again quoting lack of submission of documents.
Hopefully, with the first round of pro-active steps taken by TCS, the near future seems bright for passport applicants. Pune’s model of improvement in governance could have a positive cascading effect for the 77 PSKs that dot different parts of the country.
Following are the 11 pain points raised by Moneylife’s campaign during the 13th March meeting and action taken by TCS exactly in a week, on 17th March:
1. Moneylife: Having a pre-A Counter—so that authenticity of documents is verified before they are often blindly scanned by Counter ‘A’ run by TCS personnel. A couple of VOs (Verifying Officers) from MEA’s Passport Division at Pre-A Counter would alleviate the misery of passport applicants having to be shunted by Counter B to Counter A for lack of documents or wrongly scanned documents.
TCS: The RPO has positioned a verification officer from today in the pre-A counter for pre-scanning of documents.
2. Moneylife: Online appointments ought to be made easy and for more time/days—Most of the applicants do not get online appointments easily and have to go through the trauma of having to log in for several days, weeks or months while illegal passport agents give it to them in a day. Improve the online appointment system by increasing days and not just restricting it to one day. This ought to be done at the earliest.
TCS: Online appointments in the normal category are released for seven calendar days. For example, if appointments were released for the first time on 4 March 2013, they would be released and available for 5-6-7-8-11-12 (9th and 10th being holidays). Subsequently, on 5th, appointments would be released for 13th I.e. they would be available for 6-7-8-11-12-13. Next on 6th, appointments would be released for 14th and be available for 7-8-11-12-13-14. If in the meantime, appointments are booked for the intermediate dates as in Pune—it would seem as if appointments are released and available for only one day (the last day).So, even if appointments are released 30 days in advance, they may practically be available only for the last day. Also, based on experience, the longer the duration for which appointments are released, the greater is the absenteeism.
3. Moneylife: Banishing passport agents from the premises—While entry at the TCS’s Mundhwa office is strictly by appointment, illegal passport touts roam free. Agents and touts should be strictly banned and boards should be installed mentioning the same.
TCS: Multi-lingual boards as approved by the MEA have been put up yesterday (16th March) at the PSK asking public not to deal with agents/touts as they may be making false promises related to appointments/quick processing of their applications and that none of them are authorised by the MEA.
4. Moneylife: Improving quality of TCS personnel—There have been several complaints of TCS personnel in Counter A, being very raw and lacking professional training. Enhancing the quality of TCS’s personnel so they are aware of what documents they are scanning and how they are doing so.
TCS: As per the circular from the MEA, TCS staff perform minimum checks on the documents. It is the prerogative of the government staff to satisfy themselves with respect to the documentation submitted and sometimes additional documents may be requested for, from the applicant. The placement of a Verification Officer in the pre-A counter should see a reduction in such instances.
5. Moneylife: Putting up public boards prominently, listing documents—Much of the misery of a passport applicant is when passport officials of the MEA keep rejecting his/her application for want of some document or the other. The applicant sometimes is sent back, three, four, or five times on pretext of demanding of some document or the other. Putting up public boards prominently near these counters and within the premises for various categories of documents would help in transparency. It would also curtail harassment by the passport officials sitting at the counter.
TCS: The information to be put up has been finalized and is under review by the MEA. Post go ahead, the boards will be put up after proper translation, design and fabrication. The process is likely to be completed by the month end.
6. Citizen charter, time frame for the passport process and attending to the passport applicant—Mr Sobti, with whom we had a meeting in Pune on March 14th stated that the Master Service Agreement contains details of timings of attending to an applicant—he talked about the 18 minutes, 24 minutes, 45 minutes time-frame in which to attend to the applicant for various enquiries. Also, we had suggested the time-frame for processing of the passport from the time he fills his online application to the time he receives it be put up and have prominent boards for this too
TCS: This is under preparation by the MEA.
7. 24x7 ‘effective’ grievance cell—We had broached the issue of TCS’s 24-hour helpline which is ineffective either because the calls are not answered or because the attendants simply say “our job is only to digitalise documents”. Make it effective, as per the MSA, in which citizen’s queries of his or her status would be addressed 24x7.
TCS: The 24x7 call centre is available on toll free number 1800-258-1800— to primarily provide information and status of passport applications. For grievances, applicants may followed the attached process or write to [email protected].
8. Moneylife: Improving citizen’s facilities in Mundhwa’s PSK office—Lack of toilets, drinking water, parking and proper seating arrangements leads to utter citizen discomfort, considering that hundreds of people visit the office every given day. This is due to six districts being under the Pune Passport Division. Provide the required facilities at the earliest.
TCS: The PSK is equipped with washrooms, drinking water, an-air-conditioned waiting lounge as well special faciliites for the physically challenged such as ramp/special washroom. For citizens in need, wheelchair facility is also available. For the convenience of citizens, a snack bar/counter has also been set up and there is also an ATM. With respect to facilities outside the PSK, an additional guard has been placed for regulating the flow of traffic and ease parking problems. The RPO would also be taking up the cause with the local municipal authority.
9. Moneylife: Upgrading security measures at the Mundhwa PSK—Despite police security audit, security checks are lacking at the office. Do enhance them.
TCS: Two additional security guards have been deployed - one in the parking area as mentioned above and one at the entry.
10. Courtesy by the PSK staff—We had apprised TCS about the rudeness of the staff at the Mundhwa office. Do instruct staff as well as the security staff to deal with the public with courtesy.
TCS: Staff has been further sensitized on the subject .
11. Making the Master Service Agreement document, public: In this Public Private Partnership, TCS is public authority. Hence, MSA should be put in the public domain. TCS had mentioned that it was awaiting clearance from legal cell. So please keep us update on this.
TCS: The request needs to be put up through proper channels to the ministry.
Moneylife requests TCS and MEA to still work on:
• Inordinate delays at Pune Passport office; RTI applications rejected
• TCS assures smooth passport delivery system
• TCS refuses to share in public, Master Service Agreement with MEA for its passport venture; says it will consult its legal cell
(Vinita Deshmukh is the 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”.)