Master Service Agreement shows that TCS is responsible for operations, printing of passports and addressing ‘grievances’. Pune Passport Grievance Forum to file complaint with CIC for not adhering to pro-active disclosures under Section 4 of the RTI Act
Regional Passport Officer, Pune, Shakuntala Rane assured members of the Pune Passport Grievance Forum (PPGF) that she will address the passport complaints filed by aggrieved passport applicants with the PPGF, by 18th February. She also said she will make the procedures easier for applicants in a fortnight’s time.
The meeting was initiated by Rajya Sabha MP Vandana Chavan, at the Regional Passport Office, Senapati Bapat Road on Tuesday, 12th February, who has lent her support to the PPGF and is taking up the issue with ministry of external affairs in Delhi.
Ms Chavan and members of the PPGF protested against the absence of the Tata Consultancy Services (TCS), Western Region head, Manoj Bhargav who pulled out at the 11th hour stating he is in Goa. Ms Chavan and the PPGF are planning to complain to Salman Khurshid, Union minister of external affairs against Mr Bhargav, for not participating in a serious issue concerning citizens’ passport problems. TCS is in a public-private-partnership (PPP) alliance and one of the agreement clauses in the Master Service Agreement (MSA) is “(viii) Call centre and grievance handling” under the contractual obligations, the role and responsibilities of Service Provider rules, that it signed with ministry of external affairs on 13 October 2008”. However, TCS is in hiding and has not answered a single email communicated to it regarding passport issues in the Pune division.
The most common and frustrating complaint is that of not getting an “appointments online” once the passport application form is successfully filled up online. One of the applicants Dr Shrikant Limaye wrote to the PPGF, which we took up with Ms Rane. He stated: “How do the 650 slots per day at Passport Seva Kendra in Pune get full within eight to 10 minutes, after 3.00 pm? The TCS people have designed a worst ‘on-line’ submission system. When the Indian Railways can handle a much larger number of bookings ‘online’ and one gets a reservation within a time span of 30 days or more, why for getting an appointment for passport, I must log in every time and get rejected? The appointments must be given as soon as I submit the online application and get my ARN number. It is the duty of Passport Seva Kendra to give an appointment and not of the citizen by taking a number of trials every day!”
Ms Rane has assured all aggrieved passport applicants who do not get appointment to walk in at the Passport Office, Senapati Bapat Road during the working hours of all working days to get their appointments across the counter.
As for the problem of being unable to take out the printout of the online application form or not being able to access that link, Ms Rane stated, “we will try and make arrangements to address this problem in the next 15 days.”
When asked for a copy of the Master Service Agreement between the Passport Division of the ministry of external affairs and TCS, Ms Rane said she does not possess nor is it there on the website. Vijay Kumbhar, member of the PPGF, stated that, “this document comes under pro-active disclosure of Section 4 of the RTI (Right to Information) Act and should be made available in the public domain. PPGF will file a complaint to the Central Information Commission, for not adhering to this mandatory rule.”
When Vandana Chavan asked about responsibility of the TCS in this project, as its partnership was meant to ease the procurement of the passport, Assistant Passport Officer Mrs Arora who was also present at the meeting stated, “They are not separate from us”. Regarding the role of TCS, Ms Rane explained, “TCS is in charge of the complete online system which includes online application form; online appointment schedule and digitalization of documents after police verification.” She said that “four TCS employees work in this office to digitalise police verified documents but they are overloaded with work.”
To a question about the role of the TCS in the passport project posed by MP Laxmant Naik in the Rajya Sabha in August 2012, E Ahmed, minister of state in ministry of external affairs had replied, “As per the agreement, it is the duty of the TCS to ensure ‘Under the contractual obligations, the role and responsibilities of Service Provider include provision/ setting up of
Thus stated Vijay Kumbhar, a leading RTI activist and member of the PPGF, “the onus of the entire operations of passport infrastructure, facilitating procurement of passports, addressing grievances and also printing of passports is on TCS and this private agency cannot shrug off its responsibilities by saying that its job ends with digitalization of application forms, as has been stated by an official of TCS.”
Former Central Information Commissioner and RTI Activist Shailesh Gandhi stated that, “If it is substantially financed or controlled by the government, the private entity comes under the RTI Act. If the government has ‘control’ of money, monopoly or land, then the private agency which is in the PPP venture comes under the RTI Act. TCS fits the bill as I had ordered in a decision when I was the CIC”
There are many complaints of the online status of passport applicants being shown as “police verification pending” whereas when applicants go to the respective police stations, they are told that it has already been sent back to the passport office. Deputy Commissioner of Police, Foreign Registration Office, Rajendra Mane, also the head of the Passport Division in Pune Police Commissionerate who was present at the meeting stated, “there is some lacunae in the online system as many a time when it shows `police verification pending’ we have the manual record to prove that we have already sent it to the Passport Office. Which means, unless the Passport Office uploads our verification details the status does not change.” When asked to clarify this, Mr Rane stated that, “the TCS employee who does this work is overworked.” He added, digitalization of police verification would commence by the end of March and that would perhaps ease the problem.
The PPGF has appealed to the Passport Officer to make the working of the passport office transparent as regards putting up on the website the list of names of the 650 applicants who get their appointment everyday; put up the copy of the Master Service Agreement between TCS and the ministry of external affairs and to make procedures transparent and simple for the passport applicant. The PPGF will lodge a complaint with the Central Information Commissioner against violation of pro-active disclosure under Section 4 of the RTI Act.
The PPGF warns citizens not to entertain passport agents as all of them are unauthorized. The circular recently issued by the ministry of external affairs states: “Members of the public are advised to desist from dealing with touts/agents who may be charging exorbitantly for their service and further, may be making false promises about arranging assured urgent appointment or faster passport service delivery. After the launch of Passport Seva Kendras, the appointments are available to general public through the website. Alternatively, certain categories of applicants are allowed to walk in without appointment, details of which are available on the website. The government has not authorised any intermediary/representative to undertake such activity or to give such assurances. Such incidents of harassment/influence by them may be reported to the concerned Passport Officer.”
(Vinita Deshmukh is the consulting editor of Moneylife, an RTI activist and convener of the Pune Metro Jagruti Abhiyaan. She is the recipient of prestigious awards like the Statesman Award for Rural Reporting which she won twice in 1998 and 2005 and the Chameli Devi Jain award for outstanding media person for her investigation series on Dow Chemicals. She co-authored the book “To The Last Bullet - The Inspiring Story of A Braveheart - Ashok Kamte” with Vinita Kamte and is the author of “The Mighty Fall”.)