January 06, 2013

Passport for Students : Recognising Mobility

Navigating through a government office is a nightmare in India and it is doubly so when you are student and you are looking for your first passport. I went through this wringer twenty eight years ago and I was disappointed to see that even today, my son -- and many other students like him, whom we met at the passport office -- have to go through the same inordinate difficulty to get something that should come to them, literally, as a birthright. In fact, had it not been for a friendly senior police officer who introduced us to senior officers in the passport office, my son and I would still be running from pillar to post.

The number of hours waiting in the passport office gave me ample time to understand the process and I am sure that there is a better way to address the matter. That will be the subject of a different post. Here, let me suggest a simple mechanism that will benefit hundreds of students who are applying for passport for the first time.

The crux of the matter lies in the fact that a passport application needs police verification from ALL locations where the student has been residing for more than one year. In today's scenario, almost every student studies in a college that is located far away from his "permanent" residence where his parents live -- more often than not in a different state at the other corner of the country. In principle, the police at the distant location is supposed to send in the verification certificate to the passport office at the home location within a reasonable amount of time but this NEVER, EVER happens. Thanks to a set of circumstances that include the extremely slow postal service and the persistent demand for gratuity by set of empowered people this process takes ages. Students have to keep visiting the passport office, stand in queue for hours for hours and are finally told that the certificate has not come ! "Please check with the other police station". A quick visit to the passport office will reveal that on any day, at least ten students stuck on the limbo.

There is an alternative to this approach. If one can get hold of a friendly senior government officer who is willing to give a character certificate then in principle one get a Tatkal passport but the devil is in the detail. First the character certificate must conveniently omit to mention that the student is living away from home and more importantly, the student must have the confidence to look the passport office in the eye and tell a blatant lie that he is sitting at home and doing nothing ! If he can do that, the passport is through, but unfortunately students in general are not congenital liars and innocently, they tell the truth that they are studying in some distant college. That is when all hell breaks loose ....

Having lived through this, we have discovered that there is still a legitimate path through  the system but unfortunately this is not documented anywhere and needs to be discovered, very painfully, by each hapless student. In this case, the character certificate needs to be amended to show permanent and current addresses AND a bona fide certificate needs to obtained from the college.

Question is : If the bonafide certificate from the college is acceptable in the case of a Tatkal passport character certificate then why can the same not be used in lieu of the second, remote, police verification in the normal passport application route ?

My humble suggestion is in the case of students studying away from their home town, the need for a police verification from the college location can be replaced with a bonafide certificate from the head of  -- say AICTE approved -- college. The student can obtain this certificate beforehand and  attach this certificate with the formal application. In this case there will be one police verification at the students home location. Removal of this one single step will go a long way in reducing the time, and effort of chasing matters across multiple locations, needed for a student to get the passport.

It may be argued that a student may have been involved in anti-social activities at his college that the college may not be aware of and it is imperative to get inputs from the local police. True, there is a finite non zero probability of this happening but this is very small. Taking a small risk on this front would lead to great relief for many thousands of students all across the country and perhaps the government can take this risk. After all no law enforcement process can ever be 100% fool-proof --as otherwise each citizen at all points of time need to be under continuous surveillance. Statistics tell us that in "Testing of Hypotheses" there are two kinds of errors : Type I - incorrect rejection of a true hypothesis and Type II - failure to reject a false hypothesis. In our case the hypothesis is that the applicant is a criminal but statistics tells us we can never, ever reduce the probability of both errors, simultaenously, to zero.

Under these circumstances it may make sense to do away with the need for that second police verification and issue a passport to students on the basis of one police verification and a bonafide certificate from the college. This will provide a very big relief to many young people without seriously endangering the safety and security of India.


Unknown said...

Greetings Mr. Mukerjee,
My son wants to apply for a passport as a student. After going through your post, i recommended him to apply for a bonafide certificate before commencing with other steps. He told me there is a section for address in the bonafide certificate. The certificate goes like "This is to certify that _________, residence of ____________"
So he was baffled with the address part cause there is no mentioning for present or the permanent address.
As far as your post is considered, i'm sure it needs the present address as the college will be certifying that the student is residing at his present location, and then they can go to his permanent location for the rest of the verification. But like you said the present address keep changing for students as they move to different locations cause of personal issues, so maybe the certificate is mentioning the permanent address.
Your post certainly did a great job in providing us the useful tools to get through the government mess but i would like to be sure about this thing cause one wrong move would throw us into this deep abyss.

Awaiting Response,

Suryansh Rathore

Unknown said...

and i would also like to know which address gets endorsed on the passport. as the passportindia website is saying only present address gets endorsed on the passport, but what about a student whose address keeps on changing.

Anonymous said...

Is it mandatory, to have the present address typed on the Bonafide Certificate ??