Passport issuance in India was an elaborate ritual in the past and one had heard of enough horror stories from friends regarding the arbitrary and high-handed behaviour of the officials who would ‘Lord-it-over’ the hapless applicants. The process would begin with a long serpentine queue in front of the Passport office that would be in place in the early hours of the morning, well in advance of the official timings.You would be armed with a bunch of documents, some of them in triplicate and with a handful of photos. And if you were lucky enough to manage all the formalities without any hitch in one visit, it would still take the best part of the day – half of it would have been spent waiting outsider the office under the scorching Sun.
But thankfully times have changed and the digitization of the process along with outsourcing to a competent private sector partner has transformed the end-user experience. The proof of the pudding is in the eating and I personally experienced the change while getting a passport done for my mother.
I had been abroad for couple of years and trying to persuade my elderly mother to visit us. She was in late 60s and had never even thought about acquiring a passport. What is issued almost by default in modern nations is actually a rather exotic document for most Indians as they find no real need to arm themselves with one.
Eventually I convinced her to apply for a passport and got her application submitted online. Luckily her appointment came up when I was on a visit to back home and this enabled me to help her with the formalities. There are some very sensible arrangements done for senior citizens in at the processing centre called the ‘Passport Seva Kendra’. They are allowed to be escorted by a relative who can accompany them through the process. The waiting queues are minimal and even there it is made comfortable by ensuring that they can be seated in proper waiting area.
The processing staff are courteous and can converse in local language which was a great comforter for my mother. They are patient and do not mind repeating a question. They even explain, as much can be expected, regarding the steps being undertaken as part of the passport issuance process. The efficiency was great and we finished our session in about three hours end-to-end.
Within days a police verification happened and luckily I was able to be around for the same. And if the verifier felt it was a bit odd that a lady in her late 60s wanted to apply for a passport, my explanation that I was abroad and my visiting card establishing my credentials seemed to put his mind at ease.
I did not stay for long after that so could not witness my mother actually getting her passport. But it finally did come and after a while she even visited us for a few months. A visit abroad was seen as a great privilege and gave my mother some bragging rights in her circle. She became quite emotional during the trip and was aggrieved that my father was not around to enjoy and share the experience. But her personal experience is just one of the many which shows that my country is changing and lives are improving. Surely that is a good note to sign off my piece.