Many of us order flight tickets and then think of getting a passport. At a time when even train journeys are booked months in advance, a passport is usually taken for granted. Is getting a citizen's more important and valuable document a nightmare? Or a pleasant experience? L. Srikrishna speaks to Jose K. Mathew, Regional Passport Officer, Madurai.

It is not at all a complicated business to get a fresh passport, says Mr. Jose. “Walk in with relevant documents, as stipulated by the Ministry of External Affairs, which helps in swift processing of the application.”

Normally, – whether educated or illiterate – people just step into the passport office in an unprepared way without carrying documentary proof needed for verification of address of the applicant etc., Actually, 80 per cent of the applicants come prepared. The problem lies with the remaining 20 per cent, who have to be educated. The Regional Passport Office in Madurai has its jurisdiction over Theni, Dindigul, Madurai, Sivaganga, Ramanathapuram, Virudhunagar, Tirunelveli, Tuticorin, and Kanyakumari districts.

Mr. Jose, who visited The Hindu office on Saturday, interacted with journalists for nearly an hour. “Every day, 400 to 500 people come to the passport office. About 80 per cent of the applications seeking fresh passports are straight away accepted across the counter after due verification. Every applicant spends two to three hours. The documents required are clearly mentioned in the website (passport.gov.nic.in). For those who cannot understand English, we have displayed in Tamil at our office. Photocopies of the documents required are also available in Tamil for the public.” On touts, he said, “basically, we don't have any control outside the passport office. We don't allow touts or for that matter any unauthorised person inside. Only genuine applicants are permitted. Earlier, theft and cheating complaints were reported within the passport office campus. Now, such things are a past. “We do give preference to women carrying infants and senior citizens visiting the passport office,” he said. How do you rate police support in verification? “In the recent months it has improved, I can say. But, on an average, they take 45 to 60 days.

Though it is 21 days for them to verify and send it back, only 25 per cent stick to the timing.

The Theni district police send the verification in 15 to 20 days time. Rest are taking some more time. It is basically the delay in getting PV. Once, we get them, passport is issued within seven working days. We do send a monthly report of pending applications to all the Superintendents of Police in the region.

“Actually, applicants can submit their applications with the Passport Collection Centres available at every Collectorate. This is much faster as the applications are swiftly processed at the respective districts and sent to us for issuance of passport. Normally, for a public to submit applications with the Passport Office, he or she has to get an appointment through the e-facility. For a person residing in a town say, Nagercoil, he has to travel all the way to Madurai, while it would be easier to submit them at the Kanyakumari district Collector's office,” he explained. To a query, why there is not much response to the adalats held at the passport office, Mr. Mathew said that probably there was not much of grievance or complaints.

With the support of all the staff, “we are able to stick to the timing of delivery.” “When the Passport Seva Kendra, which is to be launched in Madurai and Tirunelveli, becomes functional hopefully from mid-June, we would link it online with all the office of Superintendents of Police. Thus verification would be done online. This makes the job easy and issuance of passports would be much faster. The PSK is coming up on spacious premises at Kochadai (Madurai) and Vannarpet (Tirunelveli) with state-of-the-art technology. While the front office would be handled by TCS, the passport staff would be responsible for verification among other works.”

On complaints that many staff handling the applications treated them harshly and getting into the office for genuine reasons was difficult, Mr. Mathew said, “To avoid all such friction, I appeal to the public to come prepared with all relevant documents. I am sure no one would face problems at all.”

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