“It took me almost 15 days to get a police verification done by the cops. I had to call them by myself … arrange for meetings thrice and cops did not cooperate. The constable, who finally turned up at my house was clearly expecting money, which he termed as expenses incurred for the trip to my home,” said Shilpa, who had recently applied for a passport from Banashankari in the city. She is not alone. A study “Jana Mahiti Report 2016” by Janaagraha Centre for Citizenship and Democracy has revealed that the police verification process has emerged to be one of the biggest sources of corruption and harassment for applicants of new passports in the entire process. S.T. Ramesh, former State police chief, who put together the report, said that they analysed 1,149 crowd-sourced complaints on the website— ipaidabribe.com —related to police verification between 2010 and 2014. The analysis showed that Rs. 38.71 lakh was paid as bribe, Mr. Ramesh said.
The report showed that the bribe was even justified in most cases as 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 report or a delay in the report. The average bribe money ranges from Rs. 500 to Rs. 1000, in most cases, the analysis pointed out. The analysis of these complaints also showed that the process of police verification was not just a source of corruption, but also an harassment to applicants.
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,” Mr. Ramesh said adding that the police often do not call in advance and fix an appointment resulting in them landing up at the door step when the applicant is not at home.
However, City Police Commissioner, N.S. Megharik, said that they will soon deploy technology to remove the issue of red-tape and streamline the entire police verification process. “We are working towards reducing the average police verification time from its present 26 days. We are first targeting for 15 days. Summoning the applicants to the police station is also barred. We will implement this rule strictly,” he said.
‘Blacklist individuals to do away with police verification’
Is doing away with the process of police verification while issuing passports all together an option? Yes, says the “Jana Mahiti Report 2016,” which has suggested preparing a blacklist of those individuals to whom various enforcement agencies do not want passports to be issued to.
“Such a database will exempt common citizens from the invasive procedure of police verification, its harassment and corruption,” S.T. Ramesh, former State police chief, said.
The report also said that in the given context of lack of clarity on what information is sought as verification, the police only do address verification. “Karnataka has a digital database of all cases registered in the State for over a decade now. But in most other States, Crime and Criminal Tracking Network and Systems (CCTNS) is a non-starter. This has effectively crippled the verification of criminal antecedents,” Mr. Ramesh said.
However, the State police are not the only custodian of criminal cases in the country. A host of enforcement agencies like the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), Narcotics Control Bureau (NCB), Income Tax Department, Enforcement Directorate and Intelligence agencies, also have cases against individuals which are not being verified now. The report has now suggested that all the enforcement agencies contribute to a national database of blacklisted individuals for passports, and regularly update it every quarter.
P. S. Karthigeyan, Regional Passport Officer, Karnataka, said that there was a line of thinking in the Ministry of External Affairs on similar lines. However, he said that in the absence of any instructions, the rule stood and the need of the hour was to strengthen and make the system robust.
Soon, an app for police verification A dedicated mobile application for police personnel in the city will soon make police verification go online. The project, which will be taken up on a pilot basis in the city from next month, however, will be used by the police personnel and not passport applicants.
“All 104 police stations in the city will be provided with a tab-like instrument with the new application installed in them… the app will be developed by the Regional Passport office. This will also reduce harassment faced by the applicants as the police will get access to all their applications through the app and hence will reduce soliciting of information,” said P.S. Karthigeyan, Regional Passport Officer, Karnataka. Further, the police would visit the residence address of the applicant and this visit will be geo-tagged through GPS, which will prevent the police from summoning applicants to the police station, Mr. Karthigeyan added.