Remember the time you went to the Regional Passport office to renew an old Passport or to get a new one? You had to stand in a long queue for hours, often jostling and fighting your way to the counter, only to be told that you had not filled up your application form correctly or you had forgotten to bring some document or the other.
Inside the hall where counters were located there used to be total confusion with no place for anyone to sit. Add to this, inadequate number of fans and visitors had to sweat it out for a couple of hours. It used to be especially tough on old and infirm people and a nightmare for everyone. Invariably you had to visit the passport office a couple of times before you managed to get your passport.
I am happy to tell you that all that seems to have changed. At least in Chennai! Today the whole procedure has been streamlined so well that you can apply for renewal of your Passport or a new one; online. You not only get instant acknowledgement, but also have a choice of three Centres where you can get an interview appointment. Senior citizens don`t even need an appointment. They can visit one of the three Centres in Chennai between 9 and 10 am on any working day. I did not believe the travel agent who helped me with the application formalities (since I am computer semi-literate!) that for senior citizens like me, the procedure would take less than 30 minutes. I had still gone prepared to wait for a couple of hours armed with a bottle of water, biscuits and some reading material. I was surprised to find a stall selling snacks and drinks inside the hall (However, there was no opportunity for me to even open the magazine I was carrying!).
When I reached Saligramam, the location I had chosen, I was impressed with the new double-storied building with a professional security service manning the flow of people. I was directed to an enquiry counter for senior citizens. After checking my documents, the assistant gave me a token and asked me to go to the first floor and wait in the assigned hall for my name to be called. The fully air-conditioned hall with false ceiling and sleek looking stainless steel chairs with provision for seating more than 100 people at a time looked as impressive as the exterior of the building. Though there were more than 100 people already seated in the hall, I was surprised that my name was called even before I could take my seat in the hall. I was directed to a particular counter in another air-conditioned hall with more than 50 counters, fully equipped with a camera and a finger print machine-all manned by trained assistants.
The whole process of checking my application, clicking my photo, finger printing and collecting the fees took five minutes and the efficient assistant at the counter told me to wait in the adjacent hall for a final interview with an executive of the Regional Passport Office. Even here, as a senior citizen, I was given preference and called immediately to a counter. The executive concerned asked me some routine questions and told me that my passport would reach my house by courier within two weeks. I was out of the passport office within 20 minutes of entering it. I could not believe it!
Throughout my brief stay I was made to feel like a VIP. And that too without the help of any middlemen, who have been completely eliminated thanks to the new system. It was a great feeling!
I was told that even for the general public which comes in larger numbers every day the time taken is less than 2 hours, but the important thing is that the waiting is made pleasant and comfortable, unlike the earlier days!
Later, I found out that the whole new system has been designed by TCS, the number one software giant of the country who have not only created the complete software for the project but are also providing trained man power to handle all the technical formalities. The government agents only have to satisfy themselves that the candidate is a genuine applicant. An excellent example of Public/Private sector partnership!
With the use of technology the government has already made life easier for tech savvy people who can now book tickets for rail and many other services online, eliminating the need for middlemen.
Technology, while making life easy for the general public should also help the government to get rid of the rampant corruption, if only it has the political will. I think our new tech savvy PM has that Will. Let us hope we Will really see “Achhe Din” under the “Modi Sarkar”!