While the Pune police have issued three letters in the last quarter of 2012 directing TCS to have stringent security checks while hiring employees and to tighten security of its Passport Seva Kendra, no action has been taken so far. The high court had earlier observed that TCS’s passport employees should have background checks from the Intelligence Bureau
Besides inefficiency in delivering passports in the Pune division of its Passport Seva Kendra, Tata Consultancy Services (TCS) has also come under the scanner of the police department, for not taking action on its communication to carry out the background check of its employees as also to stringently upgrade security in the premises.
Police inspector Vishwanath Ghanavat informed the members of the Pune Passport Grievance Forum (PPGF) that a letter was sent on 29 October 2012 to Arti Adapwar, manager of TCS’s Passport Seva Kendra in Pune, asking her to conduct character and background check of all of its employees. “However, TCS had completely ignored this sensitive request, at the backdrop of terrorist activities that are not unfamiliar to Pune.”
Since August 2012, Ghanvat stated that three letters were sent to Pune’s TCS office located in Mundhwa requesting it to enhance security by stringent means. This included CCTV installation, armed guards and metal detector. However, none of these safety measures are in place. This was cross-checked by the members of the PPGF who easily walked into the area where documents of passport applicants are accepted and even a relative is not allowed inside. Besides, two men wearing a blue coloured uniform were checking documents of applicants who were in queue. On asking why they did not display TCS identity cards, they said there is no need as they have uniforms. The PPGF has raised eyebrows over this casual approach of TCS in not even following the fundamental rules of security, that of giving their employees an identity card.
Ghanavat also stated that in a security audit conducted by him for the Passport Seva Kendra, the report that he submitted to the police headquarters on 7 September 2012, has recorded serious security lapses there. However, despite bringing this to the notice of Arti Adapwar, no action has been taken. PPGF members have requested copy of this report under Section 4 of the RTI Act. It has been observed that the TCS office does not even have a Public Announcement (PA) system in case they have to address the crowd waiting outside, on some matter. The manager of TCS calls the police van and addresses people by sitting in the police van and using their PA system.
Interestingly, in an order of the Allahabad High Court dated 12 April 2012 of the Lucknow Bench of PIL petitioner Kashi Prasad vs Union of India, through joint secretary of Consular Passport Services, the judge had observed and served an order stating: “During the course of hearing, the learned counsel for the petitioner referred to Annexure-3 written by one Raju PGO dated 02 August 2011 referring to some incident wherein his digital signature was used without his knowledge and also without proper processing of the application form by Tata Consultancy Services. “
“Looking to the apprehension of security risk in the process it would be appropriate that only such TCS personnel who are screened by the Intelligence Bureau or local intelligence bureau or local intelligence units after verification of their antecedents are posted to work in the Passport Seva Kendra and entrusted with a job of processing of passport application forms.
“We are also informed that some personnel engaged in the process for issuance of passports can also have access to the server of National Informatics Centre (NIC) that contains and stores information and other allied matter,” the Pune police said.
In the meanwhile, the Pune Passport Grievance Forum (PPGF) is holding a peaceful agitation in front of TCS’s Passport Seva Kendra on Monday, 11th March. PPGF has appealed to affected passport applicants and citizens to join the agitation.
Based on the study done of the inconveniences faced by passport applicants, the PPGF would be making the following demands to ministry of external affairs and TCS, on Monday:
1. The online appointment system opens only at 3.00pm and most of the applicants get the status: “650 appointments have already been booked for the day” within 3-5 minutes of their having logged in. They continue to get this status for weeks or months on end.
However, if the same applicant approaches an illegal passport agent, he gets the appointment within a day. Sometimes, passport agents themselves call up the person who has tried getting an online appointment and failed. How does the agent know that the citizen was trying through the system? Solution is that the TCS must open the appointment time for a week or month, 24x7, like it is done by the US Consulate.
2. TCS and the MEA are refusing to put the Master Service Agreement in the public domain. This will help citizens to know the responsibilities of both the agencies. In absence of this, both TCS and the MEA blame each other for the deficiency of services. The end loser is the citizen. Being a PPP (public private partnership) associate, TCS is public authority under the RTI Act and so must be answerable to the public. TCS and the MEA must put up the MSA on their respective websites. TCS runs its 24x7 citizen grievance cell (one of the mandatory commitments in the agreement) and help citizens to keep him/ her abreast of his/ her status of the passport.
3. There is a complete lack of security at TCS as well as the RPO’s office leading to a danger to the national security as passport offices are sensitive government outfits. TCS and the MEA’s passport office should immediately upgrade security and check the background of its employees.
4. Very often, police verification takes a long time and even if the verified documents are sent to the RPO’s office in time, the TCS officials take a long time to manually upload them. To date, 900 entries are still pending at Pune RPO office. Also, the status of the passport shows “awaiting police verification” even after the documents are sent by the police to the passport office. Solution is to direct TCS to increase its staff and improve its software in order to give the correct status of the passport applicant.
5. The passport applicant is made to run back to the passport office several times, on the pretext of bringing additional documents and other details. As a result, notaries that have sprouted outside the passport office for all kinds of affidavits are making a fast buck. This is also causing a delay in getting a passport. The solution is to direct the TCS and RPO to put up boards at the entrance of both the offices, listing the list of documents required to get the regular as well as tatkal passport so that there is no harassment by passport officials. Boards should also be put up, informing the time limit for issuing passport to the citizens.
6. Visitors to the passport office are made to wait in the heat and on the road with no facility for shelter, drinking water and toilets. TCS and RPO should be directed to immediately provide these facilities.
7. Courtesy should be shown by the security staff in the TCS and RPO offices as they are rude to visitors who come there.
8. The enquiry counter at the RPO’s office is open only for two hours, four times a week. The helpline numbers of TCS and RPO are generally not answered by the staff. This leads to complete confusion for the passport applicant. The solution is to ensure that helpline numbers work efficiently.
9. Both the offices of TCS and RPO have illegal agents roaming freely and even entering inside the premises of the offices. Whereas, citizens are rudely told that they can get in only with an appointment. Solution is to direct TCS and RPO not to entertain passport agents.
(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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