Dhaka: There appears to be no end in sight of the suffering of the passport seekers with particular references to getting the travel document in time and hassles related to police clearance. The scenario was no different even in the ‘Passport Service Week’ with the slogan ‘passport a citizen’s right, selfless service the pledge’, that ended yesterday. Speaking to quite a few passport seekers at few regional passport offices, this correspondent found nothing but sheer frustration among them and a sense of resignation. The main complaints the passport seekers made were delays in getting passports delivered and problems in relation to police verification.
Apart from these two, there are some other issues mentioned like lack of cooperation from the officials, insufficient dissemination of information in getting passports, misbehaviour and non-professionalism.
Some officials of the Department of Immigration and Passport (DIP), which is under the Ministry of Home Affairs, acknowledged the existence of the issues mentioned above. Currently, the DIP issues machine-readable passports (MRP) in two categories – issuance of passport for regular delivery in 21 days and urgent delivery in seven days.
According to DIP officials, people now get passports by paying a regular fee of Tk 3,450 about two weeks later than the stipulated 21 days, while with emergency fee of Tk 6,900, people get their passport delivered 2-3 days later than seven days.
However, they stated that some people get their passports on time or even a bit earlies through lobbying. Fees and number of days for issuance of passports remain the same although first time passport applicants are subjected to police verification while those applying for renewal of passports upon expiry or usage of pages or any amendment are exempted from such verification.
Many passport seekers said such practice is unfair. They are of the opinion that apart from the first-time applicants, either the DIP should take lesser amount as fee or deliver the passports quicker than the usual time.
They also said that the DIP should make sure that applicants are not harassed by the police in the name of police verification. Most of the passport seekers complained that money was demanded for police clearance.
A housewife living in Uttara said a policeman phoned her at 8pm and asked her to go to a place near House Building of Uttara for the police verification. But, once the policeman was told that her husband is a journalist, she did not have to go there.
“Look, we are aware of all the issues you have raised. But, there is really little we can do because of many constraints,” said a DIP deputy director, who is in charge of a regional office in Dhaka.
“The main problem we are facing right now is the inability to deliver the passports in stipulated time. Shortage of books can be attributed to this problem. I have to send numerous requests everyday to the head office so that people’s passports are delivered,” said the official, adding, “To be honest, sometimes I feel our department gives preference to money over rendering services.”
“Our people pay more than what the people in India do. Yet, we cannot deliver the passports in right time. I admit this is not fair to our people,” said another official in charge of a regional office.
“Currently, we have about 2 lakhs (200,000) passport applications pending with us. But, we do not have enough books to print those,” he said.
To a question, the official said, “Yes, the problem related to police verification is a serious issue and we are trying to address it as soon as possible.”
“Well, it does not appear to be fair for a person to pay the same amount for renewal, reissue or any amendment and to get the passport delivered like a fresh one. Either, he or she will pay less or he or she will get the passport delivered early,” said a mid-level officer stationed at the headquarters in Agargaon.
When contacted, Brig Gen Saidur Rahman Khan, MRP project director of the DIP, admitted that despite his department’s best efforts, sometimes people do not get their passports delivered in right time due to unavoidable circumstances and passport seekers sometimes face other problems.
“We are trying to address the problems to provide people with the services they deserve,” he said.
To a question, the project director, however, said that there is no shortage of books and no problem regarding printing.
“In recent past, due to sheer pressure, things have not been as fast as we wanted. But, we have now upgraded our system and hopefully things will be okay within a month,” said Brig Khan.
He also said that sometimes delivery of passports gets delayed due to lengthy period to get the police verification and some other technical aspects concerning the applicants, including finger prints.
When asked about the logic behind taking similar time and charge for renewal, reissue or other amendments that do not require the time-consuming police verification, he said that the department is looking into the issue. DIP Director General Maj Gen Masud Rezwan could not be reached for his comments.