The Calcutta regional passport office has the highest number of pending police verification reports, an ignominious record that has pushed Bengal to the bottom of the list of states taking more time than the standard 21 days to complete the process.
An official in the ministry of external affairs said the RPO in the city, which processes applications from across Bengal, has 96,610 verification reports pending with the police till March 31 this year.
“The backlog is incredibly high compared to RPOs in other metros, such as 314 in Delhi, 7,841 in Chennai and 35,840 in Mumbai,” the MEA official added.
The Calcutta RPO issues approximately 3.5 lakh passports every year, but around 1 lakh people in Bengal are currently in a state of uncertainty because of the police’s “slow-motion” action in verifying their applications.
“Bengal cops take around 101 days to complete the verification process, whereas Delhi does it within 13 days, Chennai in 41 days and Mumbai take 68 days on an average. It’s not that Bengal gets more applications. The other states receive almost an equal number of applications, if not more,” the official said.
Sources in the state home department said passport-related activities have taken a backseat because these were not part of the police’s core responsibility.
Sources blamed the Bengal backlog on the state police’s reluctance to adopt the online system for receiving applications from the RPO and sending the verification reports, without which a passport could not be issued.
“The online system saves at least two weeks, which is the amount of time normally required to transfer documents manually from the passport office to the police and vice versa. For that to happen, all the districts must be connected online,” said an RPO official.
Nadia, Hooghly, South 24-Parganas, North 24-Parganas and the six commissionerates — Calcutta, Bidhannagar, Barrackpore, Siliguri, Durgapur-Asansol and Howrah — had gone online since the system was launched in the state in 2011.
But the rest of the districts still use the slow and cumbersome manual mail.
“Manpower shortage and non-availability of infrastructure have been the biggest hurdles to our plan to change the system in the districts. But things are gradually looking up,” said a senior IPS officer.
Geetika Srivastava, the regional passport officer, Calcutta, was optimistic that reforms would take place. “We have had discussions with the police. They are shifting to the online mode phase by phase,” she said.
A passport official explained how easy it is to apply online for the all-important travel document. “One needs to fill in the form online and submit; meet the passport officials at the Passport Seva Kendra on a specified date; if his or her documents are cleared, the passport officer declares him or her eligible for a passport. The application is then sent online to the police for verification. The police verify the details and send the report online to the passport office.”