Thursday, February 16, 2012

Passport 2.0

Getting a passport was a nightmare! 
Anyone who's applied for a Passport from Ministry of External Affairs, Government of India, knows the terrific experience one goes through :)
But then, last month, when I went for a renewal of my passport, I encountered something different! (or I was probably drunk beyond approach)

  • After applying online and submitting details of the original documents, I was given a time slot and a number online itself. 
  • I was asked to go at 9 am, but I went at 1 pm, but was politely asked to rush in! All it took was a form (available over the counter at payment of Re. 1/-) citing the reason for delay.
  • At the counter, all documents were verified by smartly dressed young people (with badges of The Tata Consultancy Services - who are the outsourcing partners of the Passport process) who spoke flawless English, and were polite!!!
  • The number I was allotted was already flashing on the screen, and I was asked to head over to the next section (took about 5 mins at the verification department)
  • There were a row of cubicles, each with a smart young lady (!) - again bearing the TCS logo, and my number was already up on one of these cubicles. There was a split screen computer - so we can see what's happening on the service associate's screen, and a Camera popped up on a stand on the table.
  • After running all documents, making me go through all details carefully, and taking a photo (she even asked if I liked the photo or she'd take another!), and scanning all documents, she gave me a file, a few more printouts and sent me over to the next section. There was a challan of 1000/- charged at the counter and receipt duly issued.
  • When I was short of a few photocopies, the lady at the desk even scanned and copied them out for me on her machine! (I then realized that this is all a dream.)
  • A wait of about 10 mins in a comfortable, air-conditioned area with music (!) playing in the background, and I finally saw the man - an employee of the Ministry - beckoning me over for verification. But strangely, even he wasn't rude! (There must be something wrong!!) And Blimey - he called me 'sir'!
  • Another 5 mins, and the Passport Officer called me in for a final check-over, and sent me out to the exit desk
  • At the exit desk, my file was taken in, and an acknowledgement was being generated. While I waited, the young man in the counter gave me a feedback form to fill (I've run out of emotions by now).
  • He then gave me an acknowledgement and wished me a good day (phew!)
But that's not all!

Two weeks after this dream, I get a call from the police asking for a time when he can come home for verification. He even says that he can come back the next morning if I can't come home now (By now, i'm certain I'm hallucinating). To avoid spoiling the dream run, I rushed home, and a formally dressed man was already waiting for me. After documentation and verification, he said - hold your horses - 'Thank you Sir'! There's more - he refused my offer of water, tea, juice, and shook my hand and left. If you're an Indian, you would have noticed already that there's an event that I missed out. But no - he neither hinted nor asked for any 'formality'! Spectacular, huh?

And last night - 5 days after verification, I received an SMS (!) from the Ministry of External Affairs with my new passport number, and the fact that it had already been despatched by Speed Post, and the message even gave the docket number of Speed Post if I'd like to track it.

Ok, enough of poking fun. Honestly, the experience has been delightful - to say the least. All through, there is a website and a helpline (toll-free) which can be used to track the status of the passport and to raise any grievances. The system ran like greased lightning, and in under a month, a new passport is on its way home (hopefully the Postal department won't spoil the party). 
If this is what can be achieved through a Public-Private partnership, I just pray for the day when all of our rotten systems will head that way. But for now, Ministry of External Affairs and Tata Consultancy Services, Take a bow! You've brought us a vision of what it's like to live in a 'developed' country!