22 August 2014

Applying for a passport

My first suggestion to a person who asked me about applying for a passport was, "Google it" :) Turns out that the info on the internet is out-dated, so here's my help page:

The process of applying for a passport was a very tedious process earlier. Thankfully, now a lot seems to have changed. You can fill in your details online, make your payment online, you'll be given the option to choose which passport center you want to go to and on what date (long back, people had to go through a funny process of typing a captcha, clicking a button on the website at 6pm and hoping the server registers their request before the days quota expired; it usually expired within a few minutes) and simply turn up at the Passport Seva Kendra (the Passport Office) with the application form printout, the necessary documents in original and photocopies of those documents (they give you the option of scanning and uploading the documents, but that's not compulsory). Once you enter, you'll be out of the passport office in about four and a half hours. There's absolutely no need of getting it done through an agent.

Make sure you type the full expansion of your name in the application form. For references, you'd be better off giving references of your neighbours instead of your relatives (although relatives references are also accepted).

Here's a checklist and guideline for anyone going to the passport office:

  • Take a printout of the application form submitted online (if you end up with a very wide web page form which is difficult to print, you can use one of Mozilla Firefox's add-on's to convert the web page into a PDF file which will be easy to print).
  • Read the instructions given at the end of the application form.
  • The originals of the documents which provide your date of birth proof, address proof etc. (register yourself on the passport website and login. You'll be shown the list of documents you can produce)
  • Two photocopies of all those documents (put your signature on all the photocopies. That's what self-attested means)
  • A file or two for holding all those documents.
  • A bottle of water (you'll surely feel thirsty while waiting)
  • A sandwich or two (the food counter there is over-priced and not necessarily good)
  • A book or video-games or videos on your smartphone (cameras aren't allowed, but smartphones with cameras seem to be allowed. Just don't click photos of the place or you might get into trouble) or something to keep you occupied while waiting for hours.
  • A comb (a webcam will capture your photo for the passport, and you'd want to look good :-) )
  • A pen (not really necessary, but can come in handy)

If you're going to the Marathalli passport office at Sai Arcade, Bangalore, there's ample parking space at the basement, and if you prefer bus, you'll get bus number 500D from under the Hebbal flyover and from Silkboard junction (near the bridge). You'll have to disembark near Bangalore Central mall (just ask the bus conductor where to disembark).

What happens in the passport office:
You'll have to show a printout of the application form submitted online, to the guard standing outside. Only then you'll be let in. It has to look exactly like the printout page that's shown online (when I went to apply, there was a person with a printout of the application with the GMail logo; which means he emailed it to himself and printed the email. He wasn't allowed into the passport office).

The passport office is actually quite a small place.

Initial counter: Once you're in, search for the queue for new passport applications. The person at the counter will check the documents you brought and the photo-copy, and put it into a file and hand it over to you. They also give you a printout of a token number.

Then you move into a waiting area with just enough chairs to seat 80% of the applicants, and wait until your token number is called out (the numbers will appear on a display screen too). Moving to counter A happens within around 15 min.

Counter A: For every such so-called-counter, there are a bunch of 'cubicles' where officers process your documents.  At counter A, a person scans the necessary documents, scans your signature, takes your fingerprints and takes a photo of you with a webcam. Then you have to go back with your file, to the same waiting room and wait for around 1.5 to 2 hours until your name is called out again for your trip to counter B (that's when it's shown on the display).

Counter B: An officer verifies all your documents. If your documents are ok, this process won't even take two minutes. After this, you have to go to a separate waiting section near the C counters. You may have to wait here for another hour. When your name is called and displayed on another TV screen, you go to the C counter.

Counter C: Another officer has a look at your documents. This process doesn't even take 30 seconds if your documents are ok.

That's it. Once you're out of the C counter, there's a printer near the exit, where you'll be given a printout of an acknowledgement and you'll be given a feedback form which you can fill if you wish. Then you can walk out of the passport office.

Now, the process of sending applications from the passport office to the police station is no longer done by manually dispatching the physical files. It's instantly sent to the police station online, so you can get a call from the police station within 24 hours, with a policeman asking when he can visit for a verification (and an email stating that the police verification is pending. You won't receive an email about when the verification is completed though. I guess the reports are sent to the passport office manually).

Once the police verification is done, you'll receive an email and an sms on the 10th day, stating that your passport is printed and has been dispatched by speed-post. The next day you'll receive your passport. You have to be there to collect it. It won't be handed over to your family members. If you don't collect it, it'll go back to the post office and if not collected in 5 days, it'll go back to the passport office from where you will have to collect it.

I've heard of some people waiting for months to get their passport. Now it takes just eleven days! All the best!

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