Hyderabad: Prolonged delays in issuance of passports and broker `traps’ are not the only concerns of passport seekers in Andhra Pradesh. The fear of being delivered a faulty passport is also a major cause for distress for citizens approaching the Regional Passport Office (RPO) in Hyderabad. And such cases seem to be a aplenty of RPO staffers printing the wrong address, name or age of an applicant on a passport. Cases of passports bearing an incorrect validity period or a photograph of a `stranger’ (and not the applicant) have also been reported in grievance forums.
The result? Applicants are forced to go through the grind all over again – fill a new form, stand in serpentine queues and wait relentlessly for a fresh passport to arrive. And if that’s not all, most often these people are also subjected to humiliation by the RPO officials who insist that the error was on the part of the applicant and not their “efficient” colleagues. To save themselves the trauma, many of these harried applicants turn to a broker to get the job done, though for a fat price.
“I know of friends who have had to shell out up to Rs 5,000 because the RPO wrongly put the ECR (emigration check required) stamp on their passports, when it is not supposed to be done,” said K L N Rao, a resident of Serilingampally who too was recently faced with a similar problem. Despite his old passport bearing the ECNR stamp (emigration check not required), his new passport, issued by the local RPO after a delay of over two months, had the ECR stamp on it. “Firstly, I had to file an RTI to get my passport renewed and when it did come, I saw this blunder. I have now filed for correction,” Rao said. But his woes don’t end just here. Though the Hyderabadi had paid the fee (Rs 1,500) for a jumbo passport with 60 pages what he was issued was a normal passport with only 36 pages (fee Rs 1,000).
But while Rao has been lucky to at least receive an apology from the passport authorities stating that it was a “clerical error” and that it would be rectified at the earliest, not all have been this fortunate. Despite a dozen trips to the RPO, they are still struggling to get their passports corrected.
Take for instance the case of P Annamraju who is currently in the US. Annamraju’s troubles began last year when he decided to take his family along with him and applied for his child’s passport at the Hyderabad RPO. While the passport was finally issued, post the filing of an RTI, on May 30, 2011, interestingly, the expiry date printed on it was May 29, 2011. Since then, Annamraju has been battling to get the matter resolved.
RPO officials claim, such mistakes are only natural as there are just about 20 people handling the printing of over three lakh passports. “It is just human to make these mistakes. They are not machines,” said Srinivas Gotru, Regional Passport Officer while speaking to TOI last week. But critics of the RPO say it is not the errors but the attitude of the staffers at passport office that is more annoying in such cases.
“We had received a case some time ago where the photograph of the applicant was replaced with the photograph of some stranger. For four months the person went to the RPO to get it rectified but to no avail. The officials just refused to co-operate. Finally, he approached us and we filed an RTI to get him a fresh passport,” said a member of It’s Time to Make a Difference. Some even claim that the RPO staffers publicly demand bribes, of nothing less than a few thousands, to even consider their case for correction of error. TOI