PANAJI: From lurking around the passport office, the touts have now moved their operations online. Promising to fill up application forms and book speedy appointments, these so called 'passport agents' make a commission of 300 to 500 per application.
"If the process of applying for a passport was genuinely transparent and easy, we would not have any business. People pay us to help them with the formalities, because we can assure that they get it right the first time," says a travel/passport agent with an office in Patto.
Despite the online registration system being simple, it is still a cumbersome task to take on the passport staffers, says Shahanoor Karol, who is waiting for his passport, so that he can take up a job abroad. "I sent in my application in April, and even managed to get an appointment, but there has been no progress since then. Every time I go to the passport bhavan, a different officer examines my documents, and they send me back for some reason or the other. On my fourth visit yesterday, they asked me to produce my birth certificate. why didn't they ask for it the first time, back in April?" asks an irate Karol. "It feels as though they are deliberately delaying my application; Now I wonder if I should have approached an agent," he quips.
Applying for a passport re-issue is no cakewalk either. Retired government employee Nelson Clemente Dias spent an anxious couple of weeks waiting for a new passport book, a simple process that was prolonged unnecessarily, he complains. "I travel abroad for work at least 6 times a year, and my passport runs out of pages very quickly. When I applied for another passport book two weeks ago, I was asked for a police clearance certificate, even though my passport is valid until 2016. According to the rules, police verification is not necessary in such cases."
Despite having all the necessary documents for ID and address proof, the office staff insisted that Dias had to go through police verification. "I had already booked my tickets for my work trip, and needed the new passport to apply for my visa," said Dias, who finally had to seek the intervention of the RPO to get his passport issued in time. "Since I knew the RPO, my problem was sorted out. What about the hundreds of others out there who are similarly harassed by the paper-pushers at the passport office?" he asks.
Deputy Passport Officer Agnel Fernandes counters that the entire process has been streamlined, leaving no need or opportunity for touts to interfere. "Maybe these agents are being supported by a few errant staffers within the system, I will hold enquiries and weed out the problem," he assured.