We would like to bring everyone’s kind attention to various corrupt practices at the time of the police verification process for the procurement of passports, that are rampant across the country. Many people have to bribe the police or other officials to receive their passports. In an online poll, 46% of citizens admitted to having paid a bribe while getting their passport made.
In the poll conducted by the citizen engagement platform Local Circles, 37% people said that they had paid the bribe during police verification, 4% paid it to the postman and 5% paid it to the passport officer through an agent. Passport is one of the most important identity documents in India. Getting a passport made had been a tedious task for many years, but the advent of technology seemed to have eased out some issues. Although citizens living in metro cities have found the process of getting a passport made or renewed to have become easier, it is still an uphill task for people living in tier II and III cities. The entire process of passport verification is sometimes very slow and delivery of the passports takes a lot of time, creating a problem for those who need their passports urgently. Many passport verification requests remain pending with various police stations in the city and in some cases, the police take around two, three, four, five months to complete the verification and in worst cases even years.
Indeed, bribery seems to have seeped into almost all aspects of our lives in society. More worrying than this trend is the normalization of bribery – we have become so used to it that we have started seeing it as a part and parcel of everyday life. While in the Passport Seva Kendra, we interacted with other people applying for their own passports. While talking to them, we were surprised to know how almost all of them said that the next process – the police verification – would involve bribing the police official else the process would take ages. We were shocked by how people talked about bribery with such complacency, as though it was a normal component of the process to get a passport. Nobody was outraged by it. It was disturbing. Bribery is illegal, but it has become an acceptable norm in society.
We had applied for a passport as on January 8, 2019, visited the Passport office on Januar, 2019,2019 and completed all the formalities as required. Up to this, our experience was smooth and hassle-free. The problem started after this when we were waiting to be called for ‘police verification’ to our nearest police station. Days passed waiting but nothing was happening. On Feb 9, 2019, we received a call from them. They asked us to come to the police station the next day along with the documents. Why it took 30 days for the files to reach the local police station? When the police contacted us, they first asked us to come to the police station for the address verification. Which was meaningless in itself; how can someone verify an address without visiting it in the first place?
This needs to be stopped at any cost as people can be issued passports without address being checked which can lead to serious consequences in the future which might affect security and integrity of the country. However, we had completed the police verification and had to bribe the police officials in spite of having all the necessary documents with us, as they threatened us that they will not process the file if we did not pay them. The officials have become so used to asking for money, that they literally negotiate the amount as if they are settling a transaction of sale We also didn’t want to delay the process, as it was already delayed by more than 30 days now.
Upon the completion of police verification, the officials told us that they will be forwarding/clearing the files from their end within the next three working days. After three days, we were eagerly checking the online status of our application, which was still showing as “pending for physical police verification at respective thane under SP Office”. A month passed by and the status remained the same. We visited the SP Office and asked the officer concerned regarding our files, on which they replied “we receive so many applications 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 us to locate it”.
We thought that there might have been shortages of officials or they might not be performing their duties properly and diligently. Many times the officials are on leave and nobody is doing their part of work and so the pending files keep on increasing. There is a shortage of manpower in the Central Passport Organization, to deal with the increasing demand for services. People coming from distant places had to be returned due to the absence of the concerned people, which cost them a lot of time and money. Why isnt there a backup option in place? It’s strange that the country is facing an employment crisis and there is a shortage of officials at government offices.
In many cases when the applicants visit the place, they are told that their application was on hold as the provided documents were not clear or more documents are needed for further clarification. Why can’t the officials’ convey such vital information to applicants via email or text messages, if any documents are missing or any clarification is required on any documents provided to them? It’s a really pathetic condition.
In many cases, it seems officials do not bother to check applications or solve problems faced by the people unless they are ordered to do so by the higher authorities. Many people tweeted regarding the delay in issuance of their passports and within a couple of days things turn around and they got their passports.
Corruption is a disease, cancer that eats into the cultural, political and economic fabric of society, and destroys the functioning of vital organs. In the words of Transparency International, “Corruption is one of the greatest challenges of the contemporary world. It undermines the good government, fundamentally distorts public policy, leads to the misallocation of resources, harms the private sector and private sector development and particularly hurts the poor.” According to the latest findings (2017) of Transparency International, India had the highest rate of bribery among the 16 Asia-Pacific countries. Among all the respondents from the Asia-Pacific, 22% believed corruption had decreased, while 40% (41% in India) were of the belief that corruption was on the rise.
The report reads that seven out of ten Indians had paid a bribe while accessing public services. In contrast, only 0.2% of the respondents from Japan reported paying a bribe. In India, the respondents reported the highest bribery incidents in procuring public healthcare services and even identification related documents. Almost 59% of the respondents had paid a bribe for such services. Bribes paid for education were next on the list with 58% having reported doing so. In countries like India, Pakistan, and Thailand, it was the economically weaker sections which had to bear the brunt of corruption and bribery. 73% of those who paid a bribe in India were from the poorer section of society, in Pakistan and Thailand this percentage was 64% and 46% respectively.
Citizens also suggested some ways to improve the passport making process. They suggested that a time duration be set for the police verification, police officers should be able to monitor the verification cases assigned to them on their smartphones, paperwork be reduced, the progress should be made trackable online, old rules which cause confusion should be revamped and separate counters being made for different services like fresh application, re-issue, renewal etc.
We blame the system more than we blame corrupt officials. The system makes people like them feel powerful and makes the people entrusted with preserving the law to break the law themselves. In many cases, most of the Passport Police Verification Officer behave rudely and frightened or scared the common public in the name of the government. People were told that if they don’t bribe or pay the verification fee (which is from Rs 500 to Rs 5000) their passports will be canceled and even their voting rights will be forfeited.
In one case, Lake Police Station Passport Verification Officer at Dhakuria, Kolkata asked for money despite all documents and was to leave the applicant’s house without a bribe. Police verification process has emerged as one of the biggest sources of corruption and harassment for applicants of new passports. The bribe was even justified in most cases as a payback for the expenses incurred to make the trip from the police station to the house of the applicant and back to the police station.
Many have reported on the portal that they were issued veiled threats that non-payment of a bribe may lead to adverse reports or a delay in the report. The average kickback ranges from Rs. 500 to Rs. 5000, in most cases, the analysis pointed out. In most cases, the applicants are summoned to the police station for verification, in contravention to norms. This often leads to harassment of the applicant. Many, especially women, are intimidated by these visits to the police station. In many cases, the police often do not call in advance and fix an appointment resulting in them landing up at the doorstep when the applicant is not at home.
Israelmore Ayivor rightly said “You don’t necessarily need atomic bombs to destroy a nation. [Citizens] who value their pockets over the life of other citizens always do that every day”. The Government of India should take effective measures to eliminate all forms of corruption prevailing in India. Moreover, every citizen should do their part to bring in the much-needed change for the overall growth and prosperity of our country.