Participants who attended the first meeting also alleged that they were told to go to a certain passport agent or passport official who would allegedly charge ‘illegal’ fees to hasten the process of their passport
The first citizen meeting of the Pune Passport Grievance Forum (PPGF), held on 9 February 2013, was attended by 100 citizens. The meeting witnessed registration of 68 formal complaints by passport applicants who have not received their passports in the stipulated 45-day period.
Every applicant spoke about his or her grievance which was videographed and would be sent to the Chief Passport Officer, Delhi, Union external affairs minister and the Regional Passport Officer, Pune. The public private partnership (PPP) venture between Tata Consultancy Services (TCS) and the ministry of external affairs under which comes the Passport division has resulted in inordinate delays for issuance of passport, as per the experience of many passport applicants.
An official meeting between the Pune Police Commissioner, Regional Pune Passport Officer and the Pune head of TCS, Passport Division is scheduled to be held on Tuesday, at the behest of Rajya Sabha MP Vandana Chavan, who also attended the meeting and gave support to the campaign. She said that getting a passport is the right of every citizen and in this age of technology, citizens should not be made to suffer. She said both her daughters too suffered as they did not take her ‘influence’ to get their passports. However, for one of the daughters she had to finally use her contacts as she broke down and could not suffer any more humiliation by the Pune Passport office. “Although the campaign of the PPGF has started from Pune, it should be made into a national campaign,” Ms Chavan said. If the issue is not resolved at the local Passport office level, then she will take it up with the Salman Khurshid, Union minister of external affairs, she added. She urged citizens to be pro-active in the campaign.
On its part, Sandeep Khardekar, one of the conveners of PPGF said that we will wait for one week for the Passport Office to iron out the problems or else will start agitation in front of the Pune Passport Office, Senapati Bapat Road, TCS Passport Seva Kendra, Mundhwa and Pune Police Commissioner’s office, in rotation. The PPGF also appealed to Ms Chavan to have the offices of the Passport Office and TCS at one location for the convenience of citizens.
Vinita Deshmukh, convener of the PPGF stated that after the PPP venture with TCS, wherein technology and corporate efficiency was to result in an easy process of passport, citizens expressed that inordinate delays have become more common. The partnership project in Pune was launched in 2011.
The first hurdle which many face is to get an online appointment once their online application has been accepted. It takes several weeks or months. After receiving an appointment date, the next ordeal is the police verification process. Often, the passport applicant is shuttled from the Passport Office to the Police department as each one passes the buck on the other. As for the TCS, it does not welcome any complaints although the IT services major has a 24x7 consumer grievance cell facility. India’s Chief Passport Officer Muktesh Pardeshi has gone on record to say that Pune Passport office has a good input/output record and that “vested interests” are trying to break the smooth functioning. Click here to read the story as well earlier stories on the topic:
Immense difficulty is faced by out-of-station passport applicants as they are made to visit the Police Commissionerate or the Passport Office again and again as they are sent back without being heard or for some flimsy reason.
Applicants alleged that they are told to go to a certain passport agent or passport official who would allegedly charge ‘illegal’ fees to hasten the process of their passport.
Applicants were informed about their right to apply under the Right to Information (RTI) Act to know the status of their passports. Vijay Kumbhar, one of the conveners of the PGGF provided a detailed guidance. Applicants were also asked to lodge their online complaints on the Public Grievance Cell website.
Vinita Deshmukh, Vijay Kumbhar and Sandeep Khardekar convened the meeting.
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Mumbai’s housing societies recently received fat property tax bills with arrears for the past three years. Experts believe that there is no justification in this bill, particularly because your bill is based on the Ready Reckoner rate, which is a flawed method. Read on to find out the reasons behind the rate increase and what you should do about it.
Moneylife Foundation’s 153rd seminar, on 9 February 2013, received an enormous response, from Mumbaiites concerned about the hefty tax they’ve been asked to pay with arrears on their property. Mr Ashok Ravat, a noted civic activist and founder-convener of the Shivaji Park Advanced Locality Movement, and Advocate Godfrey Pimenta, President of Sahar Citizens Forum and ardent RTI activist, who took on the difficult task of simplifying these complicated matters for lay persons. The seminar wasn’t just a breakdown of the flaws in the method of calculation, though. Mr Ravat and Mr Pimenta discussed the reasons for the introduction of the new method, the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation’s (BMC’s) ‘intentional’ errors in calculating bills, and explained how to tackle the problem. The seminar was attended by more than 120 people, at least 20 of them standing and 35 unable to enter because there was not even standing room.
Mr Ashok Ravat began the seminar, wasting no time in getting to the point. He said, “The new system, the capital-value-based tax system is totally flawed. It hasn’t been accepted by any other municipal corporation, just ours. You would be right to wonder why the Ready Reckoner rate is the basis of the calculation. It is, after all, supposed to be only for stamp duty calculation.”
The BMC was able to get elected representatives to agree to this new method, Mr Ravat said, by agreeing not to increase the rates of those flats under 500 sq ft, to increase the rate of other residential properties by no more than twice the current rate, and of commercial properties by no more than three times the rate. He said, “However, those people whose rate has not increased right now will find a sharp increase of 40% two years hence. Those who have been served with this special notice should protest the bill, but pay it by 31 March 2013. This is because otherwise you will have to pay a penalty of 2% per month.”
The new system also doesn’t take into account all the details of a property. It does not consider the various planning and design aspects, quality of materials used, outgoings, or building regulations. Every property, from the slum to the luxury apartment, is being taxed at the same rate. Mr Ravat also said that it was being completely unfriendly to the property owners of Mumbai by not serving them with notices directly. He said, “If the bill is for me, why are they giving it to the society? If the secretary is inactive, you may not even know. If there’s no society formed, they are giving it to the original developer. Those affected the most may be the tenants. This is because if they are not informed and don’t pay, their flat may be evacuated after six months of non-payment.”
To address the more technical matters, Advocate Godfrey Pimenta then took over. He used his own bill as an example and also brought up the many other bills he has reviewed. But he began by explaining why the BMC has decided to change its property tax calculation method. He said, “There’s a simple reason for the change from the rateable value system. It has been caused by financial mismanagement of the BMC. The facilities we taxpayers receive are small, but the frauds within the corporation are large. You must have read about the fake bills of Rs70 crore by a contractor. You should also know that the Anti-Corruption Bureau has called the BMC the most corrupt body in the country. Nowhere in the world are property taxes so high.”
Advocate Pimenta said that the BMC is now trying to raise property tax to receive generous grants from Jawaharlal Nehru Urban National Renewal Mission. 65 corporations, including BMC, have signed up for this. Part of the mandate is to create a geographical information system to indentify property owners and to increase the number of property tax payers. Advocate Pimenta said, “The BMC, to fulfill the mandate has to bring 85% of property owners in India under the system. But it hasn’t been able to. How it is trying to compensate is by raising the tax bill of 55% of the people whose area has already been taxed. So instead of increasing the number of people, it has increased the rate. Of course, it hasn’t bothered to increase the number of people because that would mean taxing the slum-dwellers, which it doesn’t want to do.”
Several mistakes have been found in the property tax bills by Advocate Pimenta. He said, “What you need to do is check whether they’ve got the details right. Look at your old property tax bill and verify whether the right details are in the new bill. Your area, the floor, etc, should be correct, the age of the building should be correct. In my case, I found four mistakes. For example, my flat on the first floor was taxed at the rate meant for flats above the 100th floor. This is an ‘intentional’ mistake. The BMC knows what it is doing and hopes you won’t notice. In other bills I have noticed that the age of the building is different in different bills.”
Advocate Pimenta ended his talk by urging participants to protest their bills, saying that there are several organisations currently building a case against the BMC, and asked tax payers not to panic. The talk was followed by a very engaging and lengthy question and answer session, during which both speakers took the opportunity to clear the doubts of the participants.