A friend recently had an eye-opening experience, which made him and me realize that things have already started changing for the better in India. He readily agreed to my request to him to share his experience in the form of two Guest Posts on my blog. At his insistence, names and places have not been mentioned. Here’s the first Guest Post. Please do share this Guest Post with as many people as you can.
I was ecstatic when I received the email informing me that, based on my presentation at the international seminar on Sustainable Building at Mumbai two months earlier, I was being offered the opportunity to work for 6 months with one of the world’s leading experts on green construction! Apart from being my first trip abroad, I would get to meet one of the greatest persons in my field and experience the work culture in the construction industry in his country, about which I had read so much. My employer was equally ecstatic that I was getting this opportunity. He was also relieved to know that my 6 months’ assignment would start only 4 months later. That gave us sufficient time to complete the ongoing project that I was in charge of.
I already had a passport. I decided to apply for the visa immediately. From the embassy’s website, I got a list of documents that I had to prepare before getting a visa interview appointment. It seemed pretty simple at first glance. I had to get a Police Clearance Certificate (PCC) from the Passport Seva Kendra (Passport Office) in my home city and 3 affidavits, all duly notarized, attested by the Secretariat in the city in which the embassy was located. Fortunately, the embassy was located in the same city as our ongoing project.
Obviously, I first had to obtain the PCC. Since I had absolutely no idea about the procedure, and was very busy with my work, my employer spoke to his regular Travel Agent, who gave him the contact details of the “Passport Agent” who had been doing such work for their clients for over 7 years and was a reliable person, and requested him to deal directly with the “Passport Agent”.
I telephoned the “Passport Agent”, who told me that the process set up by the Ministry of External Affairs was a tedious one which involves registering online and then getting an appointment for a personal interview at the Passport Seva Kendra. Normally, interview appointments were available 4 to 5 weeks later, but he could get me an appointment within 4 days using his special “Agents’ Quota”. His fee would be Rs. 1500, payable by cash in advance, and included any possible ‘fixing’ if there was any problem during the interview.
That evening, I met the “Passport Agent”, gave him the photocopy of my Passport and paid him Rs. 1,500. He promised to call me the next afternoon to tell me the interview date and time.
The “Passport Agent” called me at 1.30 pm the next day, and told me that, despite extremely heavy demand, he had somehow managed to get me an interview appointment for 10.30 am 3 days later. He requested me to collect the interview appointment form from him that evening.
A few minutes later, my employer’s son, an engineering student, who was in our office that day since he had a week’s break after his mid-semester examinations, suddenly exclaimed to me, “Uncle, why did you pay that guy to get you an appointment? You could have done it yourself in a few minutes without even getting up from your chair! I checked on the Ministry of External Affairs website just now. Appointments are easily available, including for the date and time he’s got for you!”
I felt cheated and was extremely upset by the fact that this man had made a fool of me. I told my employer that I’ll blast the “Passport Agent”, but he calmly told me to do no such thing, at least until I had got my PCC. He explained that, since my appointment had been obtained by the “Passport Agent”, it would be prudent to avoid antagonizing him. While such people may not be capable of constructive work, they can be of tremendous nuisance value. I agreed, but requested him to have the interview appointment form collected from the “Passport Agent” by somebody else that evening because I was sure I would not be able to control myself if I met the “Passport Agent”.
The interview itself was a very pleasant experience. The atmosphere was more like that of the office of any large private sector company. The processing of documents had been outsourced to an IT company. Thus, the mundane work (scrutinizing and scanning the documents, uploading the photograph, entering of data, and printing the PCC) was done efficiently by young IT professionals, while the officials sat at their desks and signed the documents presented to them. There was a token system and the entire area was air conditioned. Within two hours, I had my PCC! I realized that the “Passport Agent” had just bluffed about the “possible ‘fixing’ if there was any problem during the interview.”
I had learnt an important lesson. In the past, since information was very difficult to obtain, most persons had no option but to believe people like the “Passport Agent”, who is nothing but a tout. But, these days, information can be obtained on the internet very easily about most things. Most Government departments, especially those which many citizens need to deal with, have very informative websites, and quite a lot of work can be done through these websites. It’s not even necessary to know the exact name of the website or the office/Department. For example, if you are looking for the website of ‘Consular, Passport & Visa Division, Ministry of External Affairs, Government of India’, just search for Passport Office on Google, and you reach the website. Quite a bit of work can be done online e.g. downloading of forms, fixing interview appointments. Things have also changed inside the offices, mainly due to the introduction of technology.
Can we get rid of touts? Yes We Can!
This was only the first part of my Guest’s visa experience. More interesting things will follow in his second Guest Post on October 17, 2013!