Friday, July 24, 2015

Post offices should issue passports in India

Why can't the loss making post offices of India start issuing passports in the country? Getting a passport in India is a tough job indeed, even though it has gone online.

Almost 22 crore people in Uttar Pradesh live and work under the rule of the Yadavs of the Samajwadi Party or the Mayawatis of the Bahujan Samaj Party. In this state there are only three passport offices, one in Lucknowthe state capital, the other in Bareilly and the third in Ghaziabad.

The external affairs ministry may say they have made the procedure simple. The application has gone online and the dalals are out of the businessfor applying. However there is a problem here. The multiplicity of documents required is confusing to the common man, who even after applying online for a passport from Gorakhpur or Deoria or Azamgarh, will have to tread down to Lucknow to the local seva Kendra to finalize all his details.

Here he will find, that having an Aadhar Card is not enough, as the Aadhar Card is not a proof of age. He will have to submit his High School Certificate once again, as he had done earlier to the Aadhar Card making authority. In case he has forgotten to bring it, then a trip back to Azamgarh or Gorakhpuror Deoria is warranted. Now who said the procedure has become easier?

Once these documents are submitted then the applicant has to wait for a policeman to come to his house, to verify the claims and documents he has submitted to the passport office. The policeman collects several papers and takes notes and takes self attested copies of Aadhar Cards, Pan Cards and Election Id Cards and passport size photographs of the applicants. He also takes a copy of the High School Certificates of the applicants as well. So much so, for going to the passport office and applying there in the presence of an officer or appointee of the department.

This entire rigmarole can take ten to fifteen days at the end of which, a passport does arrive or is canceled, in the process a much wiser individual who has interacted with both the external affairs ministry and the home ministry and the state government, has a document that will facilitate his travel abroad, where he can holiday in Switzerland, go for Haj to Saudi Arabia or study in Australia and Canada and the United Kingdom or the USA. Life can now be lived kingsize.

In this process no one says that police harass them for money in the name of verification, and the police and the external affairs ministry are groping in the dark to find better ways and means to issue a passport, but the same passport is handed to British citizens in London by the post office within 24 hours. The same happens in former British colonies like Malaysia, Indonesia and Singapore and at the most, the process takes 48 hours and if you are lucky, the travel document will be available the same evening, if you apply in the morning. All because the post office handles this work.

To get a similar process begun in India, the Ministry of External Affairs has to link up with the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Information Technology, which oversees the work of the India Postal services. This is not a big task, but it may help in reducing the losses that the department is incurring every year. Even though Aadhar Cards and the Unique Identification Number work was given to this department, its financial loss was around Rs. 6,800 crore in 2012 alone.

The situation is unique, as despite the fact that the postal department is a losing proposition, its staff has to be given increased salaries, as they are central government employees and the Sixth Pay commission took the lid off salaries. So while their work has reduced, their pays have increased.

The government in this case can neither shut down the post offices nor can it dismiss the staff. At the same time several postal services are being discontinued or have already gone into the pages of history. The Telegraph office is now a thing of the past and was killed by the SMS and the Email.

Whatever was left was destroyed by Facebook and WhatsApp. The government employees who work in the postal department will despite all this, get a major hike in salaries when the next pay commission comes along. It would be better to generate work for them by allowing them to issue passports, as is done in several other countries.

In the old framework of things, when nations lived in isolation, it made sense to have bamboo curtains and iron curtains. Now the passport is just a travel document and easier access to passports should be possible.

However something in our procedures is lopsided. While it is easy to get a driving license even if you do not know how to drive a car properly, and could end up endangering the lives of several persons, it is tough to get a gun license, even though it is vital to have a gun for self defense in a country, where law and order is a big problem and criminals are easily accessing guns and bombs.

Similarly when economic liberalization has become the order of the day and boundaries between nations are vanishing, with the average Indian becoming an international citizen, getting a passport should be in the hands of post offices, to make things easier and justify the high salaries paid to the postal staff.
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