Chaos at passport office as agitated applicants disrupt work

PANAJI: The functioning of the Panaji passport office was disrupted on Monday for over an hour and half by scores of agitated passport seekers over their inability to get appointment to avail services and the situation was brought under control only after the police intervened but not before some of the officials were manhandled.

Agitated passport seekers alleged that despite their repeated attempts they were unable to get the appointments while some others, whom they know, managed to get the same either through agents or the touts who hang around the passport office for a “fee” even as they accused some of the passport staff of selling appointments. They also demanded that the appointment system be done away with and the old system restored.

The disruption was done allegedly by people who had turned up at the office without prior appointments and wanted that they should be given walk-in appointments by the passport officer, which were normally reserved for the senior citizens, children up to five years of age, physically handicapped and those having genuine emergencies.

The interruption caused inconvenience to those applicants who had turned up at the office with prior appointment, informed the passport officer, Mr Krishan Kumar, and that they had to wait for a longer time to complete the formalities to avail new passports, re-issue of passports, police clearance certificates, etc. Mr Kumar said that despite the stoppage of work, the passport office attended to 254 applicants and added that the staff had to forego their lunch hour so as to attend to the applicants.

Mr Kumar denied the charge that his office was manipulating appointments and said that the whole system of appointments was being managed by the Union Ministry of External Affairs from its offices in New Delhi and Hyderabad. He said that his office could allot between 10-15 walk-in appointments to those in emergencies, senior citizens, etc.
The passport officer further said that the Panaji passport office could handle at the most 240-250 applicants per day but a much larger number turned up at the office thereby putting unwanted pressure on the officials as well as those who had got the appointments.

Many of those who turn up for emergency appointments claimed that they were in urgent need of passport or other services, he said, adding that most of them failed to give any proof of urgency. He went on to add that he always helped those who could prove the urgency and there have been cases where the applicants were issued prompt services.
The passport officer, however, said that many of those who did not get the appointments gatecrash and at times manhandle the security staff to make their way to the office and create chaos routinely. He also said that though time was allotted to others who get appointments, many turn up much before their appointed time and then claim that they were made to wait for hours. Some others turn up to pre-pone their appointments.

The passport office has also come across production of fake application reference number copies by applicants (mostly without bar code), which it said was being done by unscrupulous touts and others who hang just outside the passport office and who could be behind “frequent” squabbles as the new system has “deprived” them of making a fast buck.
The passport officials also informed that one of the applicants, who was the most agitated and leading others, had submitted a forged certificate which had been since sent for verification, while others were claiming emergencies for availing passports but were unable to give any proof to substantiate their claims.

Meanwhile, the passport officer has sought police protection and written to the Director General of Police so as to carry out normal official work. He also said that he has also taken up the matter of security with the Ministry of External Affairs and sought deployment of Central Industrial Security Force to prevent gate crashing on a daily basis.[NT]