The passport hurdle
I have been a recent beneficiary of the Indian Foreign Ministry's vision "to deliver passport services to citizens in a timely, transparent, more accessible, reliable manner and in a comfortable environment through streamlined processes and committed, trained and motivated workforce".
A part of the vision has been fulfilled but applicants are most often in the dark about certain procedures and musts in the TCS-facilitated process. For one, the site's security certificate. The moment you venture into the site, you are warned to proceed at your own risk. But we here, used to greater risks to our lives though maybe not to our PCs, dare to enter.
Once you have created an account, you are welcome to fill the application form online or download and upload it with scanned documents if available. Or you have the choice of submitting them at the PSK after you have taken an appointment. But wait, taking an appointment can be arduous and frustrating especially if you are a tatkal (emergency) applicant. I had opted for the tatkal application since I was advised by experienced hands that it would fetch me a passport much faster. Mine was only a renewal, but alas 2 years after expiry of the old. Moreover a change of address since last time.
In Chennai, one has the option of opting for the PSKs at Aminjikarai, Saligramam and Tambaram. I opted for the first of the lot as it was the closest to my residence. Unfortunately it was the most unreachable one, I found out. After wasting almost a month waiting for the appointment to be dished out, I approached somebody who dealt with affidavits and the like for passports and other purposes. He advised me to try for an appointment at 6 pm sharp (now 4 pm) after typing in all the necessary details, preferably at the latter two PSKs. When I expressed my preference for the first one, he slapped himself on his cheek (which highly tickled V) and advised me against it.
So reluctantly I made my first appointment at Saligramam; however as I had neither a ration card or a voter ID I was asked to get a year's statement of accounts and a covering letter vouching my address from my bank. They were kind enough to permit me into the high-security spanking new office before 11 am but my private bank, more rigid than the nationalised ones, said it would take a day's time. I went home disappointed.
The second time round, I managed an appointment at the one near my house. But this time, I was told that an attested photo should be given. I ran back to the bank. The manager told me they would need a week at least to verify my photo after retrieving my original application. I cursed the bank but had no other choice.
The third time I was lucky. At the Saligramam PSK, I finally managed to submit my application successfully. The photo, the fingerprints and the fee (Rs.1000 + tatkal fee of Rs 1500) were taken. The verification officer, who is an employee of the Regional Passport Office, insisted that I file a written complaint to the Regional Passport Officer about my grievances - which included lack of space to fill in address details and the appointment racket. When I told him about travel agents charging Rs. 500 to secure an appointment, he said it was as much as Rs. 2000 earlier.
The police verification came over a week after I received my passport - which came in 5 days time. It went well, and I was happy to have made acquaintance with a local policeman, he even gave me his mobile no to call in any need. You never know when they come in useful.
Next came the applications for the children. The documents are fewer, but I missed the vital one for Ash's - his original birth certificate which was in the school's custody. Since he was born in a hospital that was not under Chennai district then, I could not download a copy the way I could in Mira's case. So Mira's was processed first, which was a good thing because I couldnt have been sitting in two different counters at the same time. I had not then realised that one parent had to be accompanying each kid.
Anyway, the long and short of the story is that Mira's passport has arrived while Ash's was submitted yesterday. I had gone for a normal appointment instead of tatkal for them, which I found were easier to get - 4 pm sharp but the appt slots dont vanish all that soon nor is the Aminjikarai PSK so inaccesible.
If our PSK experience comes in useful to other first-time online applicants in Chennai, I am glad.
p.s. Children's applications have to be accompanied by an affidavit H (which can be downloaded from net) signed by parents, parents' original passports and school ID card/bona fide cert. from school.
pps. The passport hurdle was crossed in such a hurry to visit my brother & family in Nairobi in May (god willing, I must say as a aspiring good Christian). The tickets have been booked and the countdown begins now.