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Cap to plug passport hole

The external affairs ministry has decided to limit the number of verification certificates for Tatkal passports that a government official can issue in a month, official sources said.

The trigger for the decision is a nationwide scandal in which bureaucrats were found to have issued certificates without verifying the applicants’ credentials.

The taint list includes 12 bureaucrats in Bengal, prompting the ministry to bring at least 1,200 Tatkal passports issued in Calcutta last year under the scanner.

The foreign ministry has blacklisted these officials.

“We will restrict the number of verification certificates that a government official can issue in a month. This we expect would help curb malpractice that has crept into the system,” chief passport officer Muktesh Pardeshi told Metro.

Sources said no official would be allowed to issue more than five certificates a month. But Pardeshi said the passport authorities were yet to arrive at a number.

“Issuing five verification certificates a month would mean the official is personally vouching for around 60 applicants a year, which is quite high. Officers of the rank of superintendent of police and district magistrates, who can verify the credentials of an applicant, can technically issue more after proper verification. The maximum limit is still under consideration,” he said.

Senior officials in the ministry said similar cases have been reported in Punjab, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Uttar Pradesh and Odisha.

Applicants for Tatkal passports must submit a verification certificate from government officials of a certain rank and above and the passport office is supposed to despatch the document within a single working day, excluding the date of submission of the application. The police verification is done later.

A passport official said bureaucrats are expected to issue certificates only to those known personally to them or whose credentials they had checked.

On July 14, Metro had reported that 12 bureaucrats — most of them from the Indian Revenue Service and at least two from the Indian Administrative Service — had been blacklisted and barred from issuing verification certificates.

These officials had issued certificates to at least 1,200 Tatkal applicants last year, according to records with the passport office. Sources in the Calcutta RPO said most applicants had claimed that they didn’t know the officer who issued the certificate but paid money to a fixer to get the document.

The matter was not reported to police because of the absence of evidence while applicants who benefited from the wrongdoing were reluctant to report it, sources said.