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Harassed by the needless delays, red tapism and alleged corruption, a Pune-based business journalist filed complaint with the ACB
Roop Karnani, Pune-based senior journalist has lodged a complaint with Director General of Police (DGP), Anti-Corruption Bureau, alleging corruption in the online appointment system of the Passport Seva Kendra (PSK). He says the system ‘crashes’ continuously due to ‘touts’ who are probably doing mass bookings. He has also complained against harassment of applicants by the passport officials who keep sending citizens back for want of documents, many a time not required at all, as per the documents listed on the website and against the clumsy working system at the PSK, Mundhwa run by Tata Consultancy Services (TCS).
As an acknowledgement, the ACB has replied thus: “We acknowledge receipt of your complaint dated 17/3/2013. The same has been forwarded to the office of CBI, ACB Mumbai for necessary action on email id: [email protected] You are requested to follow up your complaint with the said authority.’’
In his complaint, lodged on 17th March, Karnani had appealed to Raj Khilnani, DGP, ACB, Mumbai to direct Tata Consultancy Services (TCS) which in public private partnership (PPP) with the passport division of the ministry of external affairs (MEA) to direct the TCS to eliminate this problem by rectifying the software.
Since the last one month, Karnani who has applied for renewal of his passport, states, “On 28th February when I submitted my documents, they said, in 10 days the police verification will be done. If in 10 days you don't get a call from the police, you personally go to the police station and inquire. On the 12th day I went to Pimpri police station, but they said they have received forms upto 26th February. Yesterday, on the 15th day they said they have just received one or two forms of the 28th, but have received quite a few of 1st, 2nd and 3rd March. So just wait, it should come in a day or two. If its urgent, contact Commissioner of Police (CP) office and enquire. When I enquired at the CP office, they said system shows it has left for Pimpri office. So waited for a day or two ...I am still waiting.’’
Karnani, in his written complaint to Khilnani writes: “I have faced so many problems, for the last one month, for just online ‘renewal’ of my passport, that too for the 3rd time.
A major problem is that the site crashes within less than half a minute, sometimes in less than 10 seconds, with the message that 650 appointments have been given for today. This is because of touts, obviously. But this can be eliminated by software and to streamline the chaotic system of operation prevailing at Counters A, B and C at PSK, Mundhwa.
He writes in his complaint: “I had to put one person on the job at 2.45pm, because the site says to seek an appointment at exactly 3pm, and the site closes within the next 2 minutes, and says 650 appointments given, when it takes at least 5 minutes to log into the appointment page. For three weeks my person logged in everyday to get the appointment, thus doing unproductive work. This is ridiculous. The site should be open 24 x 7 to seek appointments, and if there is a heavy rush, I should get the option to get the next available appointment, which maybe the next week, the next month or after three months (as a hypothetical case). Which means that I have to log into the site only once, and my appointment is done. I am sure that you understand this can be done by a simple change in the software programme.’’
Karnani has also brought to the notice of the ACB, the harassment of citizens inside the PSK, Mundhwa. He writes: “When, I entered the PSK at the given time, there were about 200 people waiting in five different queues, which were very long, and people were shoving and pushing. I realized that they were not giving tokens, but they were returning people back for documents not brought. Some documents were not required at all, for which they were being sent back. After waiting for a couple of hours asking them to return again on a separate date is really frustrating. Imagine a guy from Kolhapur, who had not brought his residence proof—he had to go back to Kolhapur and seek a fresh appointment. Then they asked for a marriage certificate from a man, who was standing before me… This led to a huge argument, and delayed further the movement for the token. When people started shouting like in a fish market, this man was sent into the cabin of the officer concerned.
“I got through this, after waiting for an hour. I was then sent to the next room, which was designed to accommodate just 100 people but there were over 200 people and it was very stuffy and suffocating as the air conditioner was designed for just 100 people. There was no place to sit. There was a small cafeteria, which had run out of cold drinks, coffee, sandwiches… nothing was available. The water cooler was not working. The loos were in a bad shape because of the huge rush. If the first area had been used as a waiting area, 200 people could have been comfortably seated. After waiting for almost one-and-half hour here, I started feeling giddy. I complained to them and they made me sit in the manager’s cabin. My age is 58 and I was feeling unwell. But there were older people than me, senior citizens; I feel sorry for their plight. I was lucky enough to be sent to the manager’s cabin, which was in the next room. Looking at my plight, she tried to
expedite my application. They sent my file inside and I was asked to go to a particular counter for fingerprinting and photographs. After this I thought the process was over. But no, there were totally three counters- A, B, C—I had only just finished A. There was a screen announcing token numbers and the counter to which the person had to go.
Nobody knew what the token number was because it was printed on some page in the file but they never informed us when giving the file. These token numbers were being displayed at random, not in a sequence. So a person who had come later could be called ahead.
“When I finally reached the B and C counters, they just entered one line in the computer, and said now you can go to the next counter. When I was exiting—there was just one exit—I was sent back to another window, where one man was just scanning the barcode, only after which one could exit. You will agree that the entry of just one line at counters B and C, and the scanning of the barcode, could all have been done at one counter itself, by one single person. If 20 people at each counters of A, B and C had all been done at one counter, which is more practical, 60 people could have been cleared in five minutes in one counter instead of the current procedure which takes 20 people to be cleared after three hours.’’
Karnani submitted his suggestions to the ACB as follows:
“1) Just 20 people should be called in each half an hour time slot, and there should be three people to check the documents outside the waiting area, so that this can easily be done in 15 to 20 minutes, after which they can be let in. And at no point in time, they should let in more than 150 people in the waiting area, even though the capacity is 200, so that it is less congested.
2) The person at the first counter itself should take fingerprints, which will take two minutes, and make the online entries into the computer what the B and C counters were doing, in two minutes and scan the barcode in just one minute. So if 60 people can be cleared in five minutes, imagine 1,000 people could be accommodated in one day, smoothly. But they are overcapacitated with 650 people a day, due to their disorganized ways of functioning.
“In Ahmedabad there are five PSKs, and the city has much less population than Pune. Here the process of passport renewal gets done in just 10 minutes. In Pune there should be atleast three PSKs. There should a separate PSK in Kolhapur so that applicants from Kolhapur, Sangli, Satara do not have to come to Pune.’’
(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”.)
Some of the government websites used for collecting online payments from citizens do not have a proper security certificate verified by a trusted third party. Yet, it asks for an undertaking that would hold the user responsible for any misuse of the portal!
Following recurring incidents of Indian government websites being hacked, a security certificate (based on SSL or Secure Socket Layer protocol) has been made compulsory for all the new websites being created and for strengthening the existing ones. However, several sites, especially those used by central and state governments for online payments are still using ‘untrusted’ security certificates.
While the government, especially the finance ministry and the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) are seen trying to boost online payment methods across the country, some of the government portals are not secure enough. This poses additional risk to citizens who want to pay their taxes or any fees for government services through online payment systems.
For example, the Commercial Taxes Department of the Karnataka government collects online payment for value added tax (VAT) through its portal, www.vat.kar.nic.in. However, when one clicks on the e-payment link, it immediately shows an error in the site's SSL. Here is error, displayed in most browsers...
While, all browsers have a built-in list of trusted certificate providers, for some sites, the certificate provider may not be on its list. In this case, the browser will warn you that the Certificate Authority (CA) which issued the certificate is not trusted. This issue can also occur if the site has a self-signed certificate.
When you connect to a secure website, the server hosting that site presents your browser with something called a ‘certificate’ to verify its identity. This certificate contains identity information, such as the address of the website, which is verified by a third party that your computer trusts. By checking that the address in the certificate matches the address of the website, it is possible to verify if you are securely communicating with the website you intended, and not a third party (such as an attacker on your network).
In the case of www.vat.kar.nic.in, the certificate is not been verified by a third party that the computer trusts. Anyone can create a certificate claiming to be whatever website they choose, which is why a trusted third party must verify it. Without that verification, the identity information in the certificate is meaningless. “It is therefore not possible to verify that you are communicating with www.vat.kar.nic.in instead of an attacker who generated his own certificate claiming to be vat.kar.nic.in. You should not proceed past this point," the message says.
Surprisingly, while the Karnataka government’s portal does not have a SSL verified by a trusted third party, it puts the onus of everything on the user. A dealer using the site has to give an undertaking and accept responsibility and accountability for any information, returns and statutory forms uploaded or downloaded using his/her password. In addition, in case the password falls in the hands of unauthorised person/s, the dealer would be held responsible for liabilities arising from misuse of the password as well.
In addition, the VAT portal of the Karnataka government expects citizens to call on their telephones for any issue. The portal does not have any email ID mentioned for accepting and resolving grievances from users.
In a stinging response to RBI deputy governor Dr Chakrabarty's shocking and sweeping denial of a money-laundering scam, Cobrapost points out that as signatory to Financial Action Task Force on Money Laundering, India and the RBI have a treaty obligations to block precisely the kind of dubious deals exposed by it
Cobrapost.com, which exposed the money laundering practices at HDFC Bank, ICICI Bank and Axis Bank, has taken strong exception to remarks made by Dr KC Chakrabarty, deputy governor of the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) regarding the exposé.
“The manner in which the RBI deputy governor has rushed to issue the statement, even before the central bank could complete the inquest it has initiated into money laundering practices by the three banks, even before these banks could complete their own investigations into the alleged misdemeanour of their officials, and even before the Income Tax (I-T) Department could come up with its own finding, is tantamount to be self-serving and is a brazen attempt on the part of the deputy governor to not only give these banks a clean chit but also mask the miserable failure of the banking regulatory mechanism of the RBI,” Cobrapost said in a release.
Earlier on 21st March, speaking about the exposé, Dr Chakrabarty had said, “There is no scam (that) has happened... As no transaction has taken place, let us not unnecessarily downgrade ourselves. Our system to prevent money laundering is perfect ... absolutely nothing (wrong with it).”
Refuting this statement, Cobrapost.com alleged it (Dr Chakrabarty's statement) as “something premature, presumptive and preposterous aimed at sweeping under carpet the alleged involvement of the banking majors in money laundering”.
“For the RBI to say that there is no offence as there was ‘no transaction’ is a very novice reading of the law and a wilful ignorance of rules and regulations supposed to be crafted and implemented by the RBI itself,” it said in the release.
India is a signatory to Financial Action Task Force on Money Laundering or FATF and thus has treaty obligations to block precisely the kind of money laundering that the Cobrapost exposé shows has been happening rampantly in the country’s leading three private banks, it said.
Cobrapost said its “Operation Red Spider” clearly showed that the RBI and the Financial Intelligence Unit of the finance ministry have failed in their jobs and instead of heads rolling there the RBI is intent on diluting the nature of what has been found and saving its own skin. “Perhaps the banking regulatory and supervision functions should be taken away from the RBI and a new agency created for the same,” it added.
Cobrapost's investigation conducted in five zones across several branches of these banks and their affiliates like insurance companies revealed following facts...
“These money laundering practices are part of a standard set of procedures within these banks;
These money laundering services are being openly offered to even walk-in customers who wish to launder their illicit money;
A variety of options for laundering ill-gotten cash are being offered brazenly;
These money laundering services are being offered practically as a standard product across the country.”
Cobrapost said its investigation found that banks and their managements systematically and deliberately violate several provisions of the I-T Act, Foreign Exchange Management Act (FEMA), RBI regulations, know your customer (KYC) norms, the Banking Act and Prevention of Money laundering Act (PMLA) with utter disregard to consequences, driven by their desire to boost cheap deposits and thereby increasing their profits.
It took just a cold call by the Cobrapost reporter to the branches of the banks, mentioned above, to put a grossly illegal proposition on the table: A politician wants to launder a huge sum of black money. The purpose: make it white. Would the bank officials help? And the lid came off the murky world of money laundering in the Indian banking sector, as the officials of these banks rolled out the red carpet for Cobrapost's associate editor Syed Masroor Hasan.