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Passport help to flush out touts

Tathya Mitra Kendras in 6,000 locations across Bengal have been empowered to help passport-seekers file applications online for a nominal fee so that nobody has to depend on a tout.

The service, introduced this week, is for the benefit of those who don’t have Internet access or find the system of filing applications online and seeking an appointment cumbersome. The fee for the service is Rs 100, a fraction of what touts demand.

“We need to eliminate the touts who extort money from a section of applicants, taking advantage of their ignorance about computers. The Tathya Mitra Kendras are meant to eliminate the dependence on touts,” said a senior official of the regional passport office in Calcutta.

Tathya Mitra Kendras are government-aided centres set up under the public-private partnership model by rural entrepreneurs to provide basic information technology-related services to villagers.

Bengal has 6,339 Tathya Mitra Kendras, some located in the block offices, others at the gram panchayat headquarters and a few elsewhere. Each such centre is manned by at least one village-level entrepreneur with basic infrastructure comprising at least one computer and a printer.

“Calcutta doesn’t have any Tathya Mitra Kendra but if someone living in the city wants to, he or she can seek help at the nearest centre in one of the adjoining districts,” an official said.

A Tathya Mitra Kendra helps a customer download and fill in education and employment-related forms, apply for a government scholarship, file an online application for an electricity connection, apply for SC/ST certificates and search land records, among other things.

“Most people come to us to file an application online for an electricity connection. This year, we have had many students coming to download college entrance forms,” said Nilkamal Jana, a village-level entrepreneur who has been running a centre with two computers at Kaktia in East Midnapore for six years.

Personnel manning the Tathya Mitra Kendras have had to undergo training to be eligible for the new service.

“We have trained the majority of the village-level entrepreneurs in the online passport application process. Another batch will be trained on July 5 at the Behrampore Passport Seva Kendra,” an official at the passport office said.

Passport application went online in December 2011 but the promise to “uncomplicate” the process didn’t yield results until much later. “Getting an online appointment became a problem and touts flourished, doubling their fees to help applicants who did not have access to a computer with Internet,” a source said.

The decision to use Tathya Mitra Kendras as an interface is the first attempt to uproot the tout system.