Chief Passport Officer Muktesh Pardeshi who had earlier refused to accept that there were serious problems at the Pune Passport office finally agrees he miscalculated the division’s projection in terms of the number of passport applicants. He has introduced one appointment date for a family and increased online appointments to 1,100 from today
A reluctant Muktesh Pardeshi, who earlier told Moneylife that the Government of India is not bound to give the passport in 45 days and confidently stated that Pune’s Passport Division is amongst the best in the country, was compelled to come down to Pune for inspection of the Passport Seva Kendra (PSK) on 6th April, after Moneylife’s continuous crusade against the dominance of illegal touts, citizens’ harassment in not getting online appointments, passport officials asking applicants for needless documents, and delay in police verification at the Pune’s Passport offices.
Accepting that “we were wrong about Pune’s projection and could not anticipate the enormous growth in the number of passport applicants,” he announced an increase in online appointments from 775 presently, to 1,100 from today (950 online and 150 walk-in appointments as against 650 online and 125 walk-ins). In case, even this is inadequate, Pardeshi said he would take a review after a month and increase the number of appointments further, if necessary.
(From left, Shalini Mathur, Project Head, PSK at TCS; TD Sharma, RPO, Thane; Vinay Kumar Choubey, RPO, Mumbai; Tanmoy Chakrabarty, Global Head, Government-Industry Solutions at TCS; Muktesh Pardeshi, CPO, Prakash Javadekar, MP-Rajya Sabha, Shakuntala Rane, RPO, Pune and KG Shah, RPO, Nagpur )
The appointments which until last week were open for a week, will from today (8th April), open up for a fortnight. One appointment date for a family has also been introduced from today. Until last week, family members were given different dates, much to the inconvenience of citizens, especially those who came from out of Pune from districts which are under the Pune Regional Passport Division.
In the interim period, Passport Melas will be held on a regular basis, in order to bring down the pendency to zero, stated Pardeshi.
In order to further reduce the interference of illegal touts who allegedly indulge in blocking appointments and to reduce the 20% absenteeism of applicants after taking appointments, pre-payment facility would be introduced in a month’s time. Stated Pardeshi, “Citizens will have the facility to pay online through debit or credit cards and for those who are not Internet savvy, through a physical challan to State Bank of India branches. The model is at an advanced stage and MEA (ministry of external affairs0, TCS and SBI are working towards a citizen-friendly system. The fees of the applicant will be valid for one year and he will be given an opportunity to reschedule his appointment, twice, during this period.”
Pardeshi also stated that Citizen Facilitation Centres which are already functioning in different cities would shortly become centres for receiving and helping people in filling up application forms, for Rs100 per application form. There are 60,000 such CFCs in the country, he added.
Lamenting that Maharashtra takes an average of 70 days for police verification which is extremely poor, as against Andhra Pradesh, Gujarat and Delhi which do not take more than 21 days on an average, Pardeshi said that, “the online verification process which has already begun in Pune should make things easier. We are looking into the present grievances and pendency and will address it on a fast-track basis so that pending police verifications are disposed off as soon as possible. We are going to nudge the police to enhance their efficiency and provide training support.”
At the press conference on 6th April in Pune, Pardeshi refused to accept the dominance of illegal touts and their alleged nexus with passport officials. However, he relented after the media gave him examples. He instantly ordered that, “passport officials would be rotated” and ordered Regional Passport Officer Shakuntala Rane to do so.
Pardeshi refused to make the Master Service Agreement (MSA) between MEA and TCS, public saying that “we will ask if TCS feels comfortable about it.” When Moneylife brought to his notice that it is a public document and TCS is pushing it on the MEA for not providing the agreement copy, he refused to comment. When asked what were the 27 stringent deliverables that TCS was bound by, he gave vague replies.
Tanmoy Chakrabarty, Head Government Industry Solutions Unit at TCS, stated that, “the feedback has been welcome and we will work towards a more efficient service, hand in hand with MEA and the police.”
The meeting-cum press-conference was held in Pune on Saturday, 6th April. Prakash Javadekar, Pune’s Rajya Sabha MP and BJP leader and Vandana Chavan, Pune’s Rajya Sabha of NCP party, had met the minister of external affairs, Salman Khurshid on this issue and requested him to send a team for inspection to Pune. Accordingly, Pardeshi had come to Pune along with Passport officers of Nagpur, Nashik, Thane and Mumbai. At the press conference, Javadekar urged Pardeshi to set things right in a month’s time.
Activists of the Pune Passport Grievance Forum were happy with the progress but will monitor the situation.
(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”.)
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