On May 3, 2014, while submitting fresh KYC documents to my bank, I saw that my passport, which I had used as Identity Proof, was due to expire on May 26, 2014. I was petrified by the thought of visiting the Passport Office to get my passport renewed because of my harrowing experience when I had last renewed my passport 10 years back. However, I realized that I had no choice but to undergo the experience once again if I wanted to renew my passport.
That evening, I obtained an appointment for Re-issue of Passport for the earliest available date, coincidentally May 26, 2014, by e-Form Submission at the Ministry of External Affairs website. I took less than an hour to fill up the e-Form, Register, pay the Fee, schedule the appointment and print the Application Receipt.
The Ministry of External Affairs website, maintained by a private IT company, is extremely user-friendly, even to a first-time visitor. For example, after uploading the e-Form, I found that I had made a mistake while filling up the e-Form. However, I could correct the mistake in a minute.
The Application Receipt clearly mentioned the PSK (Passport Seva Kendra) address, Date & Time of Appointment, Reporting Time (15 minutes before Time of Appointment), and general instructions such as documents to be submitted, accompanying person (one person allowed only with each Senior Citizen, Physically Challenged, Illiterate or Minor applicant) and items that can be carried by the applicant inside the PSK.
Since a friend had advised me that parking could be a problem, I used public transport and reached the PSK about 15 minutes before Reporting Time. I realised I had made the correct choice when I saw two persons, who could not get parking space for their self-driven cars, having to park their cars about half a kilometre away and walk back to the PSK.
All persons having the same Time of Appointment as mine were allowed to enter the PSK after their Application Receipts were checked. The PSK was unlike any other Government office that I have visited. It was centrally air conditioned and the décor and ambience was like that of any large private sector company. Sufficient seating was available in the waiting areas inside the PSK. There was a drinking water cooler, a counter where snacks and hot/cold beverages could be bought at reasonable prices, and washrooms. I was particularly impressed that there was a photocopying machine available, where applicants who had inadvertently missed submitting photocopies of any documents could get the missed copies made @ Re. 1 per copy.
The entire process, consisting of documents verification, issuing of tokens, capturing and uploading of documents, photograph, fingerprints and thumbprints, entering of data to be printed on the new passport, payment of additional fees (I had to pay Rs. 30 since I had opted for Passport Seva SMS Service), final re-verification of uploaded documents and data entered, cancellation of old passport, and issuing of Acknowledgement Letter was over in 80 minutes.
Only the final re-verification of uploaded documents and data entered, and cancellation of old passport was done by the Government officials. Everything else was done by employees of the same private IT company that manages the website. All persons (Government employees and the IT company’s employees) worked efficiently and interacted pleasantly, but in a business-like manner with all applicants.
15 minutes after I left the PSK, I received an SMS saying, “Passport printing initiated for your File No. XYZ. You will receive SMS once your passport is printed.” (An hour earlier, as soon as I had paid the fee for Passport Seva SMS Service, I had received an SMS saying, “Thanks for opting Passport Seva SMS Services. You will receive updates on your File No. XYZ through SMS.”)
At 9.00 pm the next day, I received an SMS saying, “Passport printed for your File No. XYZ. You will receive SMS once it is dispatched by speed post.” 10 minutes later, I received an SMS saying, “Passport No. ABC dispatched today and can be tracked using Speed Post Tracking No. ET123PQR789IN”.
At 4.00 pm the next day, a little over 48 hours after I had left the PSK, my new passport was delivered by Speed Post.
10 years back, passport renewal had been a harrowing experience!
This time, it was an unbelievably pleasant experience that increased my optimism that India can and will change for the better! Some changes can be brought about by the government. Other changes can be brought about by the people. But, almost all changes can be brought about. About that, I have no doubt. I know it’s easier said than done. But if we have the will, we will find a way.