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No beating about the bush.
Atul Gotsurve, the new Regional Passport Officer of Pune Division, who has been following our campaign since March 2013, speaks on the vibrant changes that match the recommendations Moneylife had made to improve the passport office
Moneylife has been consistently campaigning for an efficient Passport office in Pune through its news columns and with activists on the ground since March 2013. We are happy to report a major success, just over one year down the line. Moneylife, thanks the Tata Consultancy Services (TCS)’s Passport Seva Kendra and Ministry of External Affairs (MEA)’s Passport Division, which is in a public-private-partnership (PPP) for accepting and implementing most of our recommendations to make the procurement of passport smooth sailing for the applicants.
Gotsurve is indeed a pleasant face for passport applicants, he is approachable and has had international exposure as an officer in various Indian embassies around the world. His commitment to citizens' needs come across clearly. He takes fast decisions and implements them, thus making things easier and quickly so. This in itself is an impact of the Moneylife campaign as the Delhi office decided to send an officer who would be citizen-sensitive.
Just to recall, the main problems at the Pune Passport Office were: difficulty in getting online appointments for Tatkal as well as normal passports; continuously turning away passport applicants on the pretext of lacking or wrong documents; asking applicants to get attested copies from lawyers despite submitting photocopy of the original document; ill informed TCS staffers at Counter “A” who had hardly any knowledge of how to check validity of documents; rude behaviour by the passport staffers and security; menace of passport agents; citizens complaints’ attended to only on two days a week and in many cases turned back; inordinate delays in procurement of passports; sometimes delay of over a year; confusion amongst student applicants and migrant applicants regarding address proof; no shelter or provision of toilets and water for the applicants, many of whom also come from other districts which fall in the Pune Passport Division. Moneylife's suggestions were aimed at dealing with these hurdles.
Excerpts from the interview with Pune's new and dynamic Regional Passport Officer, Atul Gotsurve.
Moneylife: While there are minimal complaints regarding appointments for the normal passport, has there been any improvement made for the Tatkal online appointments which is a major problem?
Atul Gotsurve (AG): You will be surprised to know that presently the daily Tatkal quota of 110 reserved for it, is not being 100% utilised – it stops many a times at 105. This is because, I held about three passport melas to reduce the backlog in the last two months and processed more than 500 Tatkal applications each day during the melas. Besides, passport applicants used to opt for Tatkal because they used to fear inordinate delays if they applied for a normal passport. Earlier, 70-80 applicants used to be rejected at the Passport Seva Kendra due to lack of documents and were asked to once again go through the appointment process. I have rectified this – now, not a single applicant is sent back home or asked to take a fresh appointment. His biometrics, checking of documents and every other process is completed. He is then asked as to when he or she would like to come and submit the required documents. We immediately give the applicant, the next date, as per his/her convenience. I am proud to say that Pune processes the largest number of passport applications in the country – 1,150 applications per day.
Moneylife: What about the long lines at your office everyday, of citizens visiting to solve their problems regarding their application and many of them being turned away due to the short visiting period – just two hours, for only three days in a week?
AG: Now, applicants can visit on every working day between 10:30am and 12:30pm, except on Wednesdays. Besides me, there are three more officers who entertain visitors and solve their problems. Even on Wednesdays, we do not turn away people. Someone or the other attends to them. You can see for yourself that the crowd outside the office has considerably reduced.
Moneylife: The problem of outstation passport applicants has been a major complaint as they are asked to keep coming several times. This is a real harassment for them.
AG: We have taken care of that too. There are clear instructions that after the first visit of the outstation passport applicant, subsequently, the communication would strictly be through mail and SMS.
Moneylife: While you have improved submission of application and payment online, what about those who are not e-literate?
AG: Firstly, I would like to say that even the most educated and Internet-friendly are sometimes digitally illiterate, especially about reading instructions and requirements of documents. Each applicant must thoroughly read the requirements, particularly the fact that we need address proof of one year when applying for passport, which means the person should have resided in that address for a minimum of one year. On 26th May, I have issued a press release to this effect stating: “Passport office, Pune appeals to all passport applicants in Pune, Satara, Ahmednagar, Solapur, Sangli and Kolhapur districts to kindly mention al the addresses they were/ are staying at since the last one year from the date of application. This will avoid delays in the application processing and also avoid imposition of a penalty up to Rs5,000 as it will be considered as suppression of facts.”
For those who are not e-savvy, we would be providing them professional services for Rs100 per application. Soon, we are launching such a citizen cell.
Moneylife: What about migrants who work as professionals in Pune or are married and live here?
AG: For those who are migrants, I agree that address proof is a problem. I have proposed that their proof of address should not be made mandatory – they should get four of the 10 documents required for proof. I expect positive response for this from MEA shortly.
Moneylife: What about passport agents who continue to flourish?
AG: We have made an appeal through our website not to encourage passport agents as they are illegal entities. I would like to reiterate that we will provide all help to applicants to ensure that they get their passports trouble-free. They should change their conditioning that agents will quickly give them passport appointments and passports – it may be the reverse, besides duping them of their hard earned money.
Moneylife: What about students? What is the procedure of address proof for them to get their passports?
AG: Students studying in Pune and staying away from their parents’ house should clearly mention their current address while applying. For proof of residence at their hostel/ place of stay, either they should provide a letter from the Principal/ Warden or proof of residence of the guardian with whom they are staying with the guardianship affidavit. Proof of their parents’ address also needs to be submitted (i.e. permanent address). Failure to mention the previous/ current addresses will lead to imposition of penalty of up to Rs5,000 for suppression of facts.
Moneylife: We still see hundreds of passport applicants standing in the hot sun for hours on the footpath at the Mundhwa office? What about some convenience for them, which Moneylife had recommended?
AG: You will be glad to know, that within two to three weeks, we are putting up a shelter inside the premises of the Passport Seva Kendra and toilets too. We are also working towards a room where outstation applicants can freshen up when they reach the place. We have already installed a TV and newspapers, and would be opening a mini library. You will be happy to know that we are also lobbying with the Pune Municipal Corporation (PMC) for a bus shuttle service on three routes – Shivajinagar-Corporation-Station-Mundhwa, Katraj-Swargate-Mundhwa, and Kothrud-Deccan-Mundhwa. We will do everything to ensure that passport application is a pleasant experience for the applicant.
(for more details contact Mr Atul Gotsurve at 020-25679962 or 25675422. Email: [email protected] Readers are welcome to write to me at [email protected] in case of any inconveniences you face as a passport applicant))
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(Vinita Deshmukh is 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”.)