BANGALORE: The bugbears are back in the passport appointment system. A year after the authorities promised to revamp the system and the glitches were washed out, citizens are again getting jammed out.
For the past month, Elizabeth Nicholas and her younger son have been spending their evenings in front of their computers, trying to get passport appointments , but they haven’t been successful .
Each time Elizabeth, who works for an insurance company, gets to the appointment page and clicks on the time button, she is guided back to the home page. She even switched to a faster broadband connection, but to no avail. “I missed my cousin’s marriage and postponed a holiday so I could complete the passport application process,” says Elizabeth , who’s applied for renewal of her passport and new ones for her two sons.
Every day, Elizabeth and her younger son log into their computers by 5.45pm, so they’re in time for the appointment procedure, which starts at 6pm. Her elder son, who recently got a job, pitches in during weekends. She even asked her friend, Vinnie Louis, to help her but she hasn’t been able to either. Incidentally, Vinnie herself managed to get an appointment to renew her son’s passport last October, after a month of repeated attempts. She was offered an appointment by touts for a fee of Rs 1,000.
“Each appointment lasts about 15 minutes. The appointment timings are from 9am to 4pm. So, according to my calculation, a single officer must be interviewing about 30 people a day. This is a far cry from the passport office saying about 500-600 appointments are scheduled on a single day,” says Vinnie Louis. “I’m also curious to know how touts are able to fix appointments so quickly and we can’t , even after trying for months,” she added.
Passport officials admitted to TOI that some people (touts) have created an artificial demand by booking appointments in advance, adversely affecting genuine passport seekers.
The external affairs minister is now planning to make it mandatory for people to pay the required fee while booking appointments online.
“The ministry is planning to implement the measure soon as it would help keep touts at bay,” said acting regional passport officer L Madana Kumar. “Those who haven’t been able to get appointments after repeated attempts also have the option to visit the Koramangala RPO and apply for a tatkal appointment.”
The ministry has also tied up with e-governance centres in the state to allow people falling under special categories to get their ARN from the centres by paying a minimal fee. “This came into effect on May 13 and should help reduce the number of online applicants,” Kumar added.