By Rohit Kumar:
Though I did not take birth in a ‘well to do’ family and thus received little wealth as my inheritance, what I did receive during my upbringing is something that very few fortunate ‘new lives’ get. Yes, I am talking about values and ideals without which, in my opinion, life is humdrum and futile. I have been one of those fortunate beings to receive principles in my patrimony. I was brought up in a family where there was no culture of corruption and my father has always had a firm stand against it. It, however, has been the reason of endless turbulence in my life and applying for a passport is one of them. That is the story which I am going to share with you.
Being deeply familiar with the corroded system and its functioning, I was quite certain that getting my passport without bribing police officials during the physical verification process would not be child’s play. But, I was determined not to buckle under their illegal demands. My numerous experiences of dealing with the corrupt system had prepared me for the huge delay I would have to face in getting a passport issued if I were to receive it without bribes. I decided to apply for it long before I actually required it.
Though I hail from a small village under the jurisdiction of the Bihta Police Station in Patna District of Bihar, when I applied for the passport I was staying in the ‘temple city’ in Odisha where I study Law from School of Law, KIIT University in Bhubaneswar. I applied online for a passport in Bhubaneswar itself by paying the requisite fee of Rs.1500/- on 4th of December 2013. I was allotted a slot at the ‘Passport Seva Kendra’ in Bhubaneswar on 23rd of January 2014. I reached the passport office on time, produced all the required documents, went through all the necessary procedures and was finally issued an ‘Acknowledgement Letter’. This letter informed me, “Application Status – Granted” but that it was subject to “Police verification.” This brings us to the main part of my story.
The fact of my two addresses created a legal necessity for double police verification, one by the concerned police station at my temporary residence and one by the concerned police station at my permanent residence. The passport office, Bhubaneswar, transferred my passport application for police verification to both jurisdictions and consequently the story of my real struggle in getting a passport issued began.
One evening, a few days after the passport office transferred my application to both the police stations, I received a phone call from the Bihta Police Station. I was in Bhubaneswar at that time and my internal examinations were going on. The person who was on the other side of the line instructed me to be physically present in the Police Station next morning as if I possessed some magical powers to disappear from Bhubaneswar and appear in Bihta Police Station the next moment. I politely conveyed to the official that it would not be possible for me to reach Bihta from Bhubaneswar at such short notice and pleaded with him to extend the date but he refused to entertain my request claiming that the next day would be the last for sending the report to the passport office. He said that if I didn’t turn up, an “Absent Report” shall be sent. I was flabbergasted. I couldn’t believe how a state agency could be so slapdash in performing its duties. They informed me just few hours before the report was to be sent. For the obvious reason, I couldn’t turn up and the police submitted an ‘Absent Report’ to the passport office, Bhubaneswar.
Let me tell you about what happened on the other side. A month and a half since my application, the Bhubaneswar Police had not come for physical verification to my temporary address, nor had it informed me through any medium to appear at the concerned police station. This was particularly odd because, as per the ‘Odisha Right to Public Services Act 2012’, police verification in passport matters is to be completed within a maximum period of 30 days. Finally, I went to the concerned police station in Bhubaneswar to find out the status of my application but in a bizarre response the officials told me that no such application had come to them for verification.
I wrote a letter to regional passport officer, Bhubaneswar, dated 18th of March 2014 requesting her to direct Bhubaneswar Police to complete the verification process in accordance with the prescribed rules and regulations and to direct Bihta Police to initiate a re-verification process. Almost a month passed but I received no response from the regional passport officer. As a last resort, I filed an RTI (Right To Information) application dated 24th of April, 2014, seeking a detailed ‘Action taken report’. This trenchant tool immediately set the stagnant system into motion and I got a reply from CPIO (Central Public Information Officer) dated 7th of May, 2014 that an ‘Absent Report’ had been received from the Patna police but no report had been received from Bhubaneswar police by then. The reply said that a reminder had been issued to the Bhubaneswar Police and that the passport would be issued on the receipt of a ‘clear’ police report from DCP Bhubaneswar and SP Special Branch, Bhubaneswar. It meant that there was no necessity for re-verification by Bihta Police.
However, the problem did not end there. A few days after I received the RTI response through which the passport officer claimed to issue a reminder to Bhubaneswar Police, I went to the concerned police station in Bhubaneswar even though I hadn’t received any communication from them. They told me that no such reminder had reached them. I came back despondently. Then, I started paying frequent visits to the police station but failed to get any useful information. At this stage, I decided to file a second RTI but kept visiting police station regardless. After a month of incessant visits to the station, I finally received good news one day. Perhaps it was because of my RTI application.
The lady in the police station who was in charge of dealing with passport matters told me that my passport application had been with them for the last 4 months. When I enquired why the same was not duly processed, she shot back, “there are so many applications being transferred by the passport office on a regular basis and it is not possible for us to deal with each of them in a definite time frame. Your application was there in a bundle of documents, so it took time for me to locate it.” Realising that any counter comment by me might simply make things worse, I politely requested her to complete the process now and to send a report to the passport office as soon as possible. Upon this request of mine, she replied, “there are so many passport applications already pending before us, and if you want your application to be processed expeditiously then you will have to pay Rs.1000/- to me.” When I responded that this was illegal she said, “then you wait for your application to be processed through the legal procedure.” She rejected any further requests outright.
Then I decided to complain to higher police officials and contacted the DCP over the telephone telling him the full story. He patiently listened to me and asked me to visit the police station next day. I reached the concerned police station the next day. The lady I had interacted with earlier was sitting there and started staring at me with angry eyes. However, she reluctantly completed all the necessary procedures. I returned from the police station feeling like I had conquered an invincible enemy. My passport was subsequently issued on 2nd of September 2014, more than 7 months after I had applied for it.
During this entire period of fighting the system, what kept me inspired and motivated were the values and principles which I had received in my patrimony and an inspiring quote by Swami Vivekananda that, “Those who grumble at the little thing that has fallen to their lot to do will grumble at everything. Always grumbling they will lead a miserable life but those who do their duty putting their shoulder to the wheel will see the light and higher and higher duties will fall to their share.”