The Fees queue in an adjoining hall was a joke. 25-30 people crowding around, and a person softly speaking the names – almost inaudibly. And if you did not show up then, your file went to the bottom of the queue and you were reprimanded if you asked questions. A mother of a young baby pleaded for her fees to be taken since the baby was crying – she was sternly told to wait till her name was called. I found it hard to believe we were in an India circa 2010.
It took 45 minutes of being squeezed and shoved around in that queue till I was finally able to pay the fees. If you are paying by 500- or 1,00- rupee notes, you have to write the serial numbers of the notes in a book along with your mobile number. This doubles the processing time, since almost everyone has atleast one of those notes.
I finally exited at around 5 pm. It was 5.5 hours since I had entered. The process should not have taken more than 30 minutes.
The irony of it was that people kept telling me that I should not have gone through an agent because “he takes care of everyone.” Presumably, people like us are rich lodes of money so the incentive is there to keep the system difficult so that we never even think of wanting to visit the passport office personally.
PS: I got my passport delivered home in a month. That too was a story in itself — had to go personally to the Speed Post office since they refused to give it to any other family member. As we say in India, “All izz Well – that ends well.”
My patience was wearing thin. As I looked around, I saw mothers with 6-month old babies sitting on the floor. After some time, I too squatted on the floor – during their 50-minute lunch break. After lunch, when the single processor situation did not change, I went to some of the staff and spoke sternly. A few others in the queue accompanied me. (All were of the opinion that this is the system and nothing can be done about it.)
I asked them why they could not put an additional 1-2 people to speed up the processing. The response: “We are short of staff. In the past few years, our staff has been transferred to Surat and Bangalore, and no new people have been hired.” After a few of us raised our voices (with me leading the way), they finally got one of them to also start processing the documents and the queue split into two.
It was 3:30 pm by the time my turn came. All documents were in order. And all I had to do now was to pay the processing fees. It was then I was told that since I had not come on the specified date for Tatkal, I would have to go to the Old Passport Office and request for Tatkal there. Another wasted day loomed ahead. But we were not done for the day. I still had to pay the fees. Child’s play, right? We forget we are at the Passport office.
In the queue in front of me, there were about 50 people. There was one queue and one “document processor.” In Sholay dialogue style, “Hum Pachas The, aur Woh Sirf Ek.” Twenty minutes into the queue, I realised that the rate of clearing one person was about 6 minutes. Which means, I would be standing in the queue for the next 5 hours. (I was reminded by a fellow queuer that I also needed to factor in their 30-minutes-stretching-to-50-minutes lunch break.)
There were 10 chairs – for the first ten in the queue. The rest needed to stand in place. There were people in the queue coming a second and third time because some document was missing. All accepted the reality of the situation, meekly. I got my documents checked by a person in one corner – he suggested adding a couple copies which I did. I had no intention of coming again.
The utter ridiculousness of the situation kept starting at me. In today’s day and age, to ask people to wait 5+ hours to submit papers for a passport is absolutely crazy. We have got all the technology in place, but we haven’t changed our people’s attitudes and processes. The same inefficiencies which were there a decade ago are still there. Because no one is thinking it from the citizen’s point of view. The influential get it done by agents; the aam aadmi stands in queue – quietly.
About a month ago, I went to the Passport office to get a new passport. My passport was actually valid for 4 more years. When it was issued in 2004, I had asked for a Jumbo (64-page vs 32-page) booklet. They didn’t do that. As a result, all the pages were used up by the visas and immigration stamps. And since I had international travel coming up, I had to get a new one.
So, I went personally to the passport office one morning. First Big Mistake. I should have given it to an agent. But I was told that if I wanted to get it Tatkal (quick), I would have to go myself. The date I got from the Internet happened to be the day I was in Palitana, so I went immediately upon my return. Considering that this is my 5th or 6th passport, one would have presumed that they would not need every conceivable documentation on earth. But they do.
Anyways, armed with the documentation, I arrived at 11:30 am. (I had sent an office person to queue up for me. He called when my turn came.) I was shocked by what I saw.
I will be in Washington this week attending the Gov 2.0 Summit. From the introduction:
Gov 2.0 Summit brings together innovators from government and the private sector to highlight technology and ideas that can be applied to the nation’s great challenges. In areas as diverse as education, health care, energy, jobs, and financial reform, there are unique opportunities to rethink how government agencies perform their mission and serve our citizens. Social media, cloud computing, web, and mobile technologies—all provide new capabilities that government agencies are beginning to harness to achieve demonstrably better results at lower cost.
While the conference is US-centric, I am sure there will be ideas for India also. Will share thoughts after the event in the coming weeks.
From a blog post a year ago:
Over the years, I have realised the importance of being able to tell a story of what one is doing in a manner that is simple and compact. It doesn’t always start that way. On my recent US trip, I had a slide deck talking about NetCore, what we want to do, and discussing the assets we have created to help us build the future faster. I worked a lot on the slide deck. It took about 5 versions to get it just right. Each version took about two hours to create on successive days. To tell a story that others can understand in 10 minutes took 10 hours of hard work.
…Telling a Story is a key attribute that every entrepreneur, manager and sales person needs. However good an idea, if it cannot be communicated well, then it has a lesser chance of succeeding. Passion combined with a Perfect Story can be a winning combination.
Through the trip, I couldn’t help thinking about the role of religion in our life. As my in-laws told stories from the origins of Jainism to Abhishek, I realised how little I knew about the founding principles and philosophy of my own religion. It is something that needs to be corrected.
Even in today’s modern times, a part of us is still rooted in our traditions. Temples have been a part of our lives through the centuries. If India has to change for the better, this change has to come from a better understanding of our own identity and culture. Somewhere through the generations, much of that has been blotted out.
Our past is what binds us into a unique national identity – one that has somehow gotten dissolved into sub-castes and communities. An understanding and recognition of India’s civilizational greatness is perhaps the missing glue that can bring us together for the future.
Palitana is a town of temples. The entire local economy is centred around the constant stream of pilgrims throughout the year. The new cars mingle freely with the horse carriages – it is a mirror of an India which exists in multiple decades simultaneously.
Part of the charm lay in the dharamshala we stayed at. The facilities were excellent. Many Jain dharamshalas tend to compromise on the basic hygiene and facilities, but not this one. Abhishek and I got plenty of time together to play – Uno, a bit of Chess, and Name-Place-Animal-Thing. And he used the floor of our room to make his own bus depots, trains stations and airports with his toys.
There are few other places on Earth than can provide solitude and inspiration for less than Rs 500 a day. It will probably, as it was for Bhavana and her family in her childhood, become an annual pilgrimage destination for me, too.
Climbing down after spending 3-odd hours in the temples at the top was much easier. But one had to be quite careful to ensure one didn’t slip given the slightly wet ground. The excitement of reaching the foothills increased with each step down. The climb up had taken me an hour and 45 minutes, while the descent took about an hour.
Through the trek up and down, we are not supposed to consume any food or water. So, from 7 am to 2 pm, that meant no eating and drinking. No wonder then that the sugarcane juice we had once we had reached down tasted extra sweet!
The pain in the legs starts the next day. And it lasts a day or two. Obviously, my legs aren’t used to this kind of exercise! And after the trek, I was keen to do one more the next day. Luckily, my father-in-law dissuaded me from that.