We had a passport apply due, and we took the online process for passport application. Filling up the forms was simple. So was uploading the one document that was necessary, given that the address had changed. Getting an appointment at the Passport Seva Kendra, was tricky though. On several occasions, we got the message that all passport slots were over and we should try the appointment on following day at 6 pm. After frustrating attempts over several days, we decided to try at exactly 6 pm. It worked. If you try even 15 minutes later, you could fail.
At the Passport Kendra, people are let in only when their appointment time is due (there are about six such times during the day, and you can choose which you want when you seek the appointment). There is no mechanism outside the building to ensure people can go in a single file, so when the crowd is let in, there is a chaotic rush to the main door. But once inside, there are neat queues and a good ambience.
The first point is a token counter, where young, largely pleasant, women look at your documents and decide whether you have everything in order. And if you do, you are given a token number, which is then used for all other checkpoints. It took about 30 minutes for our turn to come. We had gone with a telephone e-bill as evidence of the new address. The lady told us that was unacceptable, that we should get an original bill (given that we are today so used to e-bills, we assume those are original, but the government thinks otherwise) or we should have the e-bill stamped and signed by the service provider.
When we questioned an official of TCS, the company that runs the entire technology backbone and much of the front end of the passport service, as to why the website does not make it clear that e-bills are not accepted, the official said they had requested the government to incorporate the message on the website but had not received the permission from the government to do so.
We came back, got the e-bills sealed and stamped, got another appointment a few days later. This time everything went off smoothly. The Kendra is very well laid out with nice, ample waiting areas; there’s even a baby care room. There are big LCD screens that flash your token number when your turn comes, and tells you which counter to go to. In what is called the A zone, you are asked to verify the details that you filled in online. Then your photograph is taken (no need to carry your own photographs, except if you need the passport for a baby), as are your fingerprints. This process was delayed a bit by a power outage that forced a system reboot; clearly, the UPS wasn’t working properly.
In the B zone, an officer verifies your documents once again. In the C zone, your passport is granted. There were fewer officials manning the C zone, so that took an inordinately long time.
It took us about three hours to complete the process, but it was a largely pleasant experience.
Chandra S, who went through a similar passport reissue process recently at the Marathahalli Kendra, had this to say: “It was a pleasant experience. No standing in queue to get the forms, dealing with touts etc. It took about 2 hours. And the most commendable thing was that since there was no change in any of my particulars, the passport was re-issued within a week, even prior to the police verification, which will happen later.”
The Bangalore Kendras were the pilot projects, but now about 40 Kendras are live across the country. These process some 9,000 applications a day. There are also call centres to handle problems, and they take some 10,000 calls a day in 9 languages.
The passport issue duration is said to have come down dramatically. We’ve been told we may get it in 15 days. If that happens, it would indeed be a sea change from the past.