Verification delay a bottleneck for passports
While police are expected to complete the verification of residential addresses and track records of each passport applicant within 21 days, they do so only in less than one-third of the cases. For the remaining two-thirds, they take months and, in some cases, even years.
“We think that if police authorities are able to give reports within 21 days, we can certainly meet the target of one month period in which we can deliver passports. Unfortunately, only 30 per cent of all police verification reports are received within 20 days nationally. We have to make constant efforts to improve that,” said country’s Chief Passport Officer Muktesh Pardeshi.
The MEA claims that it dispatches “normal” passports “within seven days” in 68 per cent cases and “within 15 days” in 90 per cent cases. The claim, however, comes with a disclaimer—the “seven days” and “the 15 days” do not include the time taken for police verification.
Though the MEA’s ambitious project to speed up the process of issuing passports with the help of Information Technology did help lessen the time taken in submission of application, processing, printing, signing and dispatching, the delay in police verification remains the biggest constraint.
“If we are able to improve police verification system drastically, the ministry is confident of reducing the total time taken in passport delivery to even a lower scale,” said Pardeshi.
The MEA has been working with state governments to establish online connectivity between the headquarters of police districts and the passport offices in order to speed up the process. But only 344 of the 722 police districts across the country could so far be linked with the passport offices.
A R Ghanashyam, the Additional Secretary heading the MEA’s Consular, Passport and Visa division, recently accompanied a parliamentary delegation to Bangalore to see how the Regional Passport Office in the city is working. He discussed with senior police officers and top brass of the Home Department of Karnataka government to find out the reasons of delay in police verification.
He was told that while approximately 5,00,000 passports were issued annually in Karnataka, the state had only a limited number of policemen to verify the addresses and check if the applicants had any past record of crimes. A policeman had to complete verification of eight to 10 passport applications every day, he said, quoting top police officers in Karnataka.
The MEA has also noted that a policeman could go for verification of the addresses of passport applicants only if he could spare sometime from his other duties, ranging from crime investigations to dealing with traffic violations and managing security of the VIPs.
The ministry contemplated depending on the digital databases of police in some states to check the track records of the passport seekers and thus lessen the burden on local cops. But it did not work as only some states have digitized criminal databases. An applicant may not have committed a crime in the state he resides in, but this is not enough to issue him a passport. He may have been involved with criminal activities in other states.
“This digital database (of any state) is of no use for us (for issue of passport). We need to have a national database and only then we will be able to depend on it,” said Ghanashyam.