Agents rip off passport applicants

Agents rip off passport applicants

Licensed touts approach unsuspecting people and offer hassle-free services

Passport Seva Kendras (PSK) in Bangalore, which were expected to usher in transparency in the processing of the travel document, have still not been able to eliminate touts. But the difference now is passports come at a price.

The Regional Passport Office (RPO) at Koramangala has ‘licensed agents’ who approach unsuspecting people and offer services to get either a tatkal or normal passport done without any hassle.

The going rate for a tatkal passport is Rs 16,000 with a warning that the cost might rise to Rs 20,000. The actual rate charged by the Passport Office for a tatkal passport is a mere Rs 2,500.

One such agent, Deccan Enterprises, claims to be recognised by Government of India. They specialise in tatkal passports. Tatkal is a special provision where passports can be procured in 3-4 days’ time with the submission of the prescribed documents. Police verification in these cases is done after passports are despatched.

In addition to the standard documents, an annexure termed ‘verification certificate’ is required for tatkal passports, and this needs to be endorsed by specified officials, including IAS officers. Getting such a document signed by an IAS official at short notice can be particularly problematic and this is precisely what touts and other agencies exploit.

IAS officers

Shakeel, an agent, confides, “There are two or three IAS officers we constantly deal with. We cannot reveal their names. Honestly, we do not know who signs the document till the annexure comes out after signature, because we contact only their personal assistants who decide the price.”

The rates for the verification can vary, Shakeel says. “Sometimes they ask more. Usually, it gets done for Rs 7,000 to Rs 8,000. We charge so much because we have to feed the bigger fish,” he justifies.

On being asked how the agent manages to get an appointment at a PSK, Shakeel says, “I can fix an appointment online, like everybody else. But if there is a specific date in mind for appointment, I know an officer at the RPO who can get the exact date required.”
Their office incidentally operates near the Lalbagh Passport Seva Kendra and agents prefer to meet clients outside its premises or in their office.

At the Koramangala office, the counter outside distributing forms for reissue and renewal of passports, gives the agent forms in abundance, allowing him to jump the queue, while other applicants wait patiently for their turn to buy a form.

The security guard at the main door of the RPO premises allows free entry to the agent.
However, this tout is not the only one at the passport office. There are others asking passport applicants casually whether they require any help and hand out their business cards. Ironically, Shakeel calls them ‘swindlers and thugs who overcharge.’

Appropriate action

When contacted, Regional Passport Officer K J Srinivasa said, “Of course, we had no idea this was happening. We will inform the authorities concerned and take appropriate action.”

On the role of agents, he clarified, “Agents can only help people get appointments online; otherwise they have no role in getting a passport and we do not give them any special preference or quotas.”

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