The Passport Conundrum

A commoner’s struggle to get his passport renewed

The purpose of this story is to amuse the general public (which means you, okay!) and also apprise them in the process about the system of passport creation and renewal as it exists right now. I hope someone powerful reads it and everyone doesn’t have to go through the terror of this process.

To state the conclusion from the beginning, the entire system which is much acclaimed to be high tech and efficient is slow, confusing, mired with corruption and inefficiency besides a few exceptions.

So this is my story and a quest to get my passport renewed. I assure you, that mine is not by any standards, the worst. There are more horror stories around and after having listened to them, I am glad to have been able to survive a lot of the pain. I don’t know how I turned out to be so lucky.

Part I

So, my passport was to expire in Feb 2013. It was freaking me out although I had no immediate foreign travel plans but what the heck! The last time, that is when I got my passport created, the system was much easier. I just went to the passport office next to Hyatt Hotel at Bhikaji Kama Place, procured the form, went back again without having to take any scheduled appointment and submitted it. Within a few days of submitting the form, a cop came to my place, took a bribe of INR 100, or 200 which I don’t quire remember exactly, but it wasn’t more than that.  Within a few days of the police verification, I had my passport. It was much simpler

So, this time around when my passport was scheduled to expire, I spoke to a few friends who told me that you have to take an appointment on the MEA website for passport creation/renewal and that system had changed. I am scared of dealing with anything that is Government of India already and so I wasn’t in a great state of mind, to start with.

So, let me introduce you to the system of taking appointments. You fill up the form in the website and then this “appointment window” opens on the website at 6 pm exactly and it opens for about 5-10 minutes within which all the appointments are exhausted.  You have to leave everything in the world to be able to take this appointment. Just focus on the damn screen and wait for the screen to show appointment schedules. Many of my friends have not been able to take appointments even after many trials. This is just the start of the nonsense. Congratulations, welcome to the party. In my case, I waited for the appointments to show up and bingo, I got an appointment for a week later.

There is a “document adviser” tab on the website. Do not pay any attention to it or you will regret it later many times over. I will tell you in a bit why. So, I paid attention to this tab. The document adviser said that since you are renewing your passport, carry printouts of old passport and yourself with you. A grave mistake it was.

My appointment was a week from the day I took an appointment. I took printouts of the passport pages as mentioned on the website and the appointment page and showed up at the PSK (Passport Seva Kendra) in Gurgaon at my scheduled hour. Kindly note that all this has to be done on a working day which means that you have to keep your office informed.

All right, so now, I got in the queue all scared hoping that everything will turn out to be all right. So, when my turn came, I addressed the man at the counter with a ‘Hello, Sir. This is generally how I address all government servants. He saw my old passport, my appointment and then he asked for a photo ID card, which to my horror I did not have. I had a colored photocopy of my license which should have served the purpose but the guy just would not budge.

I freaked out and tried to reason with him. “But this wasn’t mentioned anywhere on the website that you have to carry a photo ID card!”

“You don’t have to pay attention to the website,” he responded.

Well, that was it. I pleaded almost since I was on a half day and I could clearly see that it was almost about to be wasted. But it did not mean anything. I did not have a photo ID and I had made the horrendous mistake of paying attention to the website.

Dejected, I returned t office, also cussing the man and the government. I won’t name the cusses I used. WTF! Anyway, so one day wasted and I was already feeling demoralized and bad about my life. I called up a number given on the website and asked them if I could use the same appointment the next day. The guy who picked up the phone said “yes, you can.” I asked him for his name and he said “I can’t tell you my name.” But of course, you can’t, because you don’t want to take any responsibility. I was hoping to salvage the situation and resolve it the very next day.

Next day, I took my photo IDs- the voter card and Adhar to the passport office hoping that life will get better. But it wasn’t to be. The guard at the entry of PSK let me enter and I am thankful to him. So, I got in the queue and when my turn came said “Hello Sir.”

He saw my appointment and said “this was yesterday’s and I can’t accept it.” I told him the guy who was there yesterday told me to come with a photo ID and I also called up the passport office and was informed that I could use yesterday’s appointment. He would just not accept.  Unfortunately, the guy who was there on my original appointment’s day was nowhere to be seen. I spoke to the guy next to the one who refused to take accept my papers since he looked a little helpful and he suggested I should speak to the PSK head who is a lady with a stern face and looks like a principal. Of course, it was about 10 past something in the morning and she hadn’t arrived yet.

I had to call up my office since I realized I would be waiting for her for at least another half an hour or more which I did and had problems at office since a presentation had to be sent out by lunch and I could not do it anymore. So, I waited for the PSK Gurgaon’s head to exhort her to reign over the counter staff to accept my appointment. She came and my hopes soared high. I entered her room and told her my story. Within a minute of my starting talking, she just asked me to leave. She said we can’t accept appointments like these. Wow, how cooperative was that, madam.

When I walked out of her room, I felt like committing suicide, but I didn’t. There are thankfully better people in my life than the ones inside that office, I told myself.

I did not know how to get another appointment since I had already filled up a form online. To be honest, I had no inclination anymore.

My passport expired.

Part II

Alright, what the hell! How have you liked this story so far? A sense of déjà vu for some of you, may be? I am sure it will be because I have heard so many horrid stories from my friends and colleagues about how their original/reissue passport became a terrifying experience.

A friend of mine had to file an RTI application because her passport didn’t come for a long time and then the passport office took cognizance and it was figured where her passport was. Another friend had to use some political or bureaucratic connection to claim the passport of her husband which was lying, hell knows where.

So, yeah, I know, I am not the only one who became a victim of the system. The only solace is that my passport has not come. J

Here is the rest of the story.

So, after I had to return from PSK Gurgaon twice after having wasted my time and energy and had my work suffer with my colleagues wondering if I was lying, I had no energy to apply again.

Post the expiry of my passport, I did not reapply for months and I did not have the inclination or the energy to go back and take an appointment by myself. So, a relative suggested that I use an agent to get an appointment. Now, this entire network of agents work and is an industry in itself because we as citizens feel so harassed and molested by the system that we feel scared to deal with it on our own. I was so mentally disturbed that I called up a few agents in the market who charge fees anywhere ranging from 500 INR to 1500 INR in addition to the renewal fee that that the PSK takes.

So, this agent came to my house and took my documents and more importantly, he emotionally caressed me. I was so depressed about the entire set up, literally. He emotionally massaged me and helped me to start believing in myself again.

I gave him the documents and he got me the appointment at PSK ITO Delhi. He also gave me a list of documents which I was supposed to carry which included right from my education certificates to identity proofs to bank statement for a year (why the hell on earth is that required!!!! But it is, since I met someone at the ITO who had to go back one day because she did not have the bank statement!).

So, I went to the bank also on another working day and got a bank statement for a year with my address on it. My appointment day was approaching and I was getting nervous as hell!

So, a day before my appointment, I collated all my documents-originals and multiple photocopies so that whatever I was asked for, I had. Still, I was paranoid that something might just go amiss, thanks for the functioning of these passport offices and their extremely helpful staff.

At ITO, I entered at my scheduled time. Since my appointment was in the second half at about 2 pm, I took half day off from work so time doesn’t become an issue, considering there were so many already.

So, I reached the counter and this lady asked for my Voter ID and ADHAR card and thankfully, not for the annual bank statement with address which I did not have! See, I didn’t even tell you that. I had 3 months statement with address. The bank had given me that only. Okay, they were charging for the annual one, so I took the quarterly one, which was FOC.

I was directed to Counter 2: this guy checked my documents in the file, took my picture, I smiled, fingerprints were taken and I was directed to counter 3.

Counter 3: Here, there was a sea of people waiting. I wondered why was this counter required since the documents had already been checked twice.  No answers were to be had. Then after waiting for about 90 minutes to 2 hours, my turn came and a lady checked my documents, asked if the address was same, I politely said yes and that was it.

Then, you have to get in a queue to submit your file and take a receipt. It takes about 15-20 minutes. By the time I submitted my file and got that receipt, I was exulting.

I felt like kissing the first person I saw but that would be a crime, I think.

Then, I forgot about it for a while and hoped that the passport doesn’t get stuck somewhere on the way, in some office.

Thankfully, it didn’t. I got a message a month or so post submission that it had been dispatched and I eagerly waited for it. Mind you, the police verification was yet to be done.

2 days later, the postman arrived jumping “Passport has come. Passport has come!” He looked so happy because every time the postman delivers the passport, he expects a reward as if he went through the pain. I paid him 20 bucks.

I was deliriously happy but the final ordeal was not over. Next morning, the cop from the local police station called for verification. He doesn’t come to you; you have to go to him. Long story short, I submitted my identity documents and those of 2 witnesses who agreed to certify my existence and then he sat plum expecting me to act. I knew he expected a bribe, which is the norm.

I paid him 200 bucks, which I was told that going rate for bribe for passport. He wasn’t happy at all. He said “I am doing passport, not a phone lost FIR!” I paid him a 100 more but he asked me to make it a 500. I did and then he said “Go happy” and shook my hand.

I walked out of the police station.

I had proved my worth as an Indian Citizen by getting my passport renewed.

Thanks for reading.

#Baba Amar