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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.
Justice JS Verma said the failure of governance was the root cause of crime against women. He also said it was “equally shocking” that there was total apathy of everyone who had a duty to perform
Verma, the head of the three-member panel, was approached by the central government for the task on 23rd December. The other members of the panel were former Himachal Pradesh Chief Justice Leila Seth and former Solicitor General Gopal Subramaniam.
He said the failure of governance was the root cause of crime against women. He also said it was “equally shocking” that there was total apathy of everyone who had a duty to perform.
“We have submitted the report in 29 days. When I offered to do the work within 30 days, I did not realise the magnitude of the work,” Verma told a press conference after submitting his voluminous report to the home ministry.
He said the report may be known after him but it is the outcome of suggestions from people within
“We received 80,000 suggestions,” he said adding all of them were read and considered before finalising the report.
On how he decided on a time-frame for finalising the report, Verma said when a senior Cabinet minister approached him on behalf of prime minister Manmohan Singh he asked him when is the next session of Parliament.
“The minister told me that the (Budget) session will start on 21st February. There were two months. So I decided let’s do it in 30 days. If we are able to do it in half the time available, then the government with its might and resources should also act fast,” he said.
He complimented the youth for the mature response.
“Youth has taught us what we, the older generation, were not aware of. I was struck by the peaceful manner in which the protests were carried out... the youth rose to the occasion,” he said.
The Kerala government, earlier this month, replaced the “Defined benefit based” pension scheme by the “Defined contribution based” pension scheme. State government employees went on a six-day strike to protest against the new scheme, which was introduced without taking the employees’ views into consideration
The six-day old strike by state government staff and teachers in Kerala, which was called off on 14th January, was the first serious agitation against replacement of the “Defined benefit based” pension scheme in government service by the “Defined contribution based” pension scheme, through the back door. As all strikes so far by government employees in India, the calling off was just a face-saving compromise, without much result to report home. Still, the issues the strike successfully brought to surface and the eagerness of the state government to somehow get back the employees for work, makes the six-day strike a cause for a re-look at the New Pension System. It was introduced by the Centre for central government employees, excluding majority of defence employees from 2004, legislative support for which is still ‘hanging’. Kerala finance minister KM Mani reportedly had negotiations with employees’ representatives till 12.40am on 13th January night which was followed with a wrap-up discussion between employees’ leaders and chief minister Oomen Chandy which lasted till 1.40am the next day.
There was broad understanding between the government and employees on the following:
Whatever be the arguments in defence of the CPS, a time-tested social security arrangement, available to a section of employees, is being dismantled without any credible alternative system in place. When one refers to social security arrangement, one has in mind all pensionary benefits including family pension. While in the private sector and profit-making public sector undertakings, employees have an opportunity to bargain and settle remunerations based on their skill and market realities, government employees and those employed in quasi-government and statutory bodies are a helpless lot, whose bargaining power is stifled in the name of public interest. It is in this context that they deserve special treatment, at least in respect of social security arrangements like pensionary benefits. The cost savings for the Government of Kerala, if any, will accrue only from the date of retirement of the first employee who joins after 31 March 2013. Till such time, there will be an additional outgo to the extent of the employer’s contribution to the fund in respect of employees joining service from 1 April 2013.
As for the central scheme, NPS has not been made applicable to defence employees who constitute a major proportion of central government employees.
To access other articles by MG Warrier, please click here.
(MG Warrier is a freelancer based in Thiruvananthapuram.)