Being married in to the Navy, you’d think that I would have a lot of interaction with government bureaucracy. But I am comfortably insulated from the monolithic systems of government. Since coming back from the UK I seem to have had fewer interactions with Indian bureaucracy than when I lived in Delhi in the late nineties. But every ten years one has to undertake one major bureaucratic task – the passport.
To apply for the re-issue of an expired passport or to apply for a fresh passport you have to go through the new Passport Seva channels whose front office handling has been turned over to the private company Tata Consultancy Services in an effort to streamline the process. This year Visakhapatnam got one of these swanky Passport Seva Kendras. The old Passport Office was a dilapidated 1960s brick and mud building that was falling apart. We even had a riot when hundreds of passport applications that were stuck at the old building (including the DH’s) were not transferred to the new system.
At the Passport Seva website you upload your application form and supporting documents and once its in the system you have to go through the demoralising process of getting an appointment online, only upon which you can physically go to the Passport Kendra/Office. This system has been deemed to be a total failure, with some people unable to get an appointment for over 6 months, and has been written about in many national newspapers.
We tried for 2 months to get an online appointment and each time we failed. You have a 60 second window of opportunity to get through to a very busy server. If you manage to get through you have to fill in your account details and if you still have a few seconds left you might get to choose your appointment time. (Screenshots of each step at this website in case you are applying for an appointment). We got to this last stage but every time we chose an appointment time, we got a message saying that the slot had been taken and we had to try the next day. Obviously our slight of hand was just not nimble enough to break through the 7 second window of opportunity. Every night we went through this process at 7:30pm sharp, knowing that probably a few hundred thousand people were sitting at their computers doing the exact same thing we were. It was terribly demoralising and the odds were stacked against us. We’d get frustrated and curse the powers that be, curse the inefficiency of our country, curses to our out of control population, curses to trying to be all modern but failing terribly at it.
The online appointment system is an effort to get rid of the old system of long lines and bribing touts to get inside the passport building. But because the online system cannot cope with the vast numbers in this country, the touts are still in demand. Because the internet is this anonymous, faceless entity, the citizen has no government babu to shout at, no recourse to justice. When an e-government system doesn’t work you feel like the government is trying to hide its same old inefficiency behind fancy new technology. Old wine in new bottles, lipstick on a pig.
Finally in August the DH’s colleague, who was also getting a passport for his family done, informed us that Central Govt employees and their families could now walk in without an appointment. Hallelujah! As of 16th September 2012 walk-ins are also allowed for changing ECR status, Adding/removing Spouse Name and for minors below age of 15 applying for a passport. There I was front and centre at 9am sharp only to be turned away because I had Annexure B but not J. I had the correct wording of Annexure M but in the format of Annexure F – you get the picture. I stood my ground. I behaved badly. I shouted. I was an educated Indian. I had come all this way and I was not going to be turned away at the first hurdle. I behaved like a typical Indian and demanded that I was right. But I was thrown out on my ass. Central govt employees please see the end of this post for the Annexures you need so you do not suffer the same fate.
Frustrated but more optimistic, I returned the very next day with all the documents the way they had to be and was finally given entrance in to the hallowed passport processing office. The place is very modern, run by the Tata Consultancy Services. Computerised with biometrics and all the whizz bang modern things, even men with ties. Everything appears very very civilized. But as you pass through each section, the silver trappings and modern frippery get stripped away and you are confronted with that stalwart of Indian bureaucracy, “The Babu”,with his bush shirt unbuttoned to reveal the baniyan (undervest) below as he twirls his chest hairs while fingering your documents and cleaning his ear with that one long fingernail that all Babus and accountants seem to have. Samosapedia (a hilarious wikipedia of Indian slang words) defines Babu as “govt official: Dealing with Babus requires knowledge of local knowledge and perhaps just some money.” Babudom is a concept and phenomenon that every Indian who has ever tried to get a piece of paper approved by a govt office would have encountered. It’s Yes, Minister in a lungi. Babu’s are immovable, mostly petty sticklers for doing things their way and the pillars holding up the bureaucratic monolith.
Here I was after an incredibly speedy 1 hour (in the old days and in the metros it’s more like 8 hrs) having my documents checked for the final time when I hit a roadblock. One of the documents you have to bring along is your 10th standard pass certificate. This is what gets you the ECNR (Emigration Clearance Not Required) which allows Indians to travel out of India freely. So that’s what I brought, along with my 12th certificate just in case. I stupidly did not take along my higher degree certificates, which were all sitting safely at home. I have had to show my 10th and 12th school certificates for my student visa to the UK, my 2 year UK working visa, my 5 year UK work permit and my US visa and never have I had a problem with it. It’s been approved by the high standards of the British Immigration and Foreign Office systems.
But here in good ol’ Hindustan they say that my 10th certificate says Statement of Marks and not Pass certificate. Even though my marks clearly indicate that I passed and it says at the bottom, “Candidate awarded Pass”. Furthermore, how could I have a 12th pass certificate if I hadn’t passed my 10th. But all such logic was lost on the Babus. Apparently at the top of the certificate it should say PASS and not STATEMENT OF MARKS. In all my dealings with visas and immigration (and I have had A LOT of these working in the UK) I have never seen my PASS certificate or been asked for it and I have managed to get all my visas with this STATEMENT OF MARKS document. I’ve shown you the scanned copies below of my 12th Statement of Marks and Pass Certificate (with identifying marks removed in case pesky a forger is lurking). Note at the bottom, RESULT: PASS CERTIFICATE AWARDED.
Pass certificate – the one you need for ECNR
I was furious with the bureaucratic small-mindedness. I stomped, I pleaded, I ranted, I fumed but they did what Babus do best -ignored me. Eventually I was more furious with myself for not bringing my higher degree certificates but whose to say they would have accepted those. My father has drilled it in to us that if a government office asks for 2 photocopies, take 6 instead. Our family motto is not “Always Be Prepared” but the more cautious and pessimistic “Don’t leave anything to chance.”. While I did take countless photocopies (and they insisted I take more in front of them) I think I was seduced by the glossy website and fancy online application systems, the chrome and glass which to me meant that everything would be like the British system – pucca. I was lured in a false notion that the system was for me not against me. Babus can be very vindictive. If I didn’t have this ECR trouble or the wrong Annexures on the first day, this would have been a very different review of the passport system…but I still would have complained about the online appointment system.
Incidentally they wouldn’t accept my 12th certificate because that too said, STATEMENT OF MARKS. According to some websites, central govt employee spouses are to be granted ECNR but I found this out much later so I couldn’t challenge the Passport Authorities with it at the time I was there. The reason the 10th certificate is important is that without this you get labelled as ECR category – Emigration Clearance Required which brings with it a world of pain at Indian immigration at the airport. What you want is ECNR which these days is just a blank second page in your passport. In the old days you got the ECR stamp cancelled, after you were issued your passport.
Before 2007 if you had an ECR stamp and wanted to travel to 18 of these countries in the Middle East and South East Asia, (of which Malaysia is one and where we are going on holiday) for work or tourism you used to have to get a ECR Suspension Certificate from the Protector of Emigrants (POE). The POE is actually a good system to keep tabs on low skilled migrant workers to places like the Middle East so that they do not get exploited. But for a tourist, it’s a pain in the behind.
The other stupid thing I did was to not opt for the Tatkal service which takes just a week to get your passport. WIth Annexure B and M central govt employees and their spouses do not need police verification. Despite having these, they still demanded police verification. So with police clearance my passport took 4 weeks to arrive which is exactly the length of time they said it would take. Obviously a huge improvement on the old days when it could take months to get your passport done. But I had to leave the passport office knowing that I was going to get ECR stamped on my passport and then I’d have to get to a POE in Hyderabad or Chennai to obtain a certificate to allow me to travel to Malaysia.
I got back home and did two things: I wrote to my school to find out how I go about getting a Pass Certificate and whether it needed to be issued by the ICSE Council. They looked through the records immediately and found that I had never collected my Pass Certificate. But I have decided to wait till after our trip to Malaysia to get the ECR removed.
I was dreading making a trip to Hyderabad or CHennai to meet the POE and get clearance to travel. So the second thing I did was to scour the internet for information about ECR Suspension and found that this is no longer in effect since October 1st, 2007. Tourists with ECR can now travel without getting permission from the POE. Here is the link to the order. If you are going to work in one of these 18 countries you have to get the POE to grant you permission to travel. But it no longer applies for tourists. Here is the govt order stating this:
Still, I have travelled through Indian immigration too many times and know that things can go badly. I have been rejected for visas and being an Indian passport holder every time I wanted to take a holiday when I lived in the UK I would have to endure the endless humiliating wait in a long line to get a visa to travel. That’s why I never made it to Spain, France,Germany, Italy, Croatia, Ireland, Portugal or Amsterdam on holiday because the lines at these Embassies were so long I never made it inside the Embassy for days. I’ve lost money on cheap tickets too. I only travelled to countries where Indians or people from countries like ours that are also deemed to need visas to enter other countries, do not go to like Guatemala, Hungary and Sweden. The lines are non-existent at these embassies. The Guatemalans in London were totally perplexed as they hadn’t issued a visa to their country in a long long time. What crap country are you from that you need a visa to get in to our crap country, they said. So I have a hatred for visas, embassies and immigration authorities. I always have my back up when confronted with these guardians of borders and there’s a combination of fear and anger as I pass through Immigration controls.
So keeping my family motto in mind I wrote to the POE just to cover my back, so that I wouldn’t get stopped at Indian Immigration at the airport on my holiday. According to the above govt order, Paragraph 3, the POE must attest this document if a citizen requests it. So I emailed the POE at Chennai and sent a hard copy of the Govt order with a self addressed envelope and Rs10 stamp. I really wasn’t expecting much. But within 3 days i got an email from the POE.
thanks for contacting this office. you are right that there is no need to take any clearance for Visit purpose. your papers have been received today and as requested endorsements made and returned please. you may also like to visit our website http://www.poechennai.in/ for further details.
D. Jai Sankar, IA&AS,
Protector Of Emigrants/
Deputy Secretary to the Govt of India
Phone: +91 44 24891337 & 044 24745610 Fax: +91 44 24891337
Within 10 days of receiving this email, the letter came back to me in the post, duly attested. I replied to thank him:
He replied to thank me.
Thanks for your wishes and we wish the same to you. thanks for those kind words and kind feed back. humbly we feel what we did is nothing but our duty pl.
D. Jai Sankar, IA&AS,
There’s nothing more to say, a happy ending to my passport woes – my faith in e-India has been restored.
*For Central Govt Employees, Annexure documents required (apart from all the other documentation required):
– Annexure B – Identify proof that you are a central govt employee/spouse
– Annexure F – for Tatkal service
– Annexure M – No Objection Certificate
– Annexure B and M – so that you do not need Police Verification