'No big deal' would friends from Bangkok say. But it was a breeze! Went on line to get an appointment at the Passport Seva portal. Was in at the appointed time, a bit of a hiccup as we entered the Enquiry area, but the rest of the time it was like clockwork and I was out in a little over an hour. Actually it could have been 45 minutes, but having read in the papers that there was some delays expected I requested a change from a normal processing to tatkal and that took another 20 minutes.
I was not really sure if I would be allowed to make this change, but the officer who dealt with my request used her discretion and permitted me to apply for tatkal. I went in as an aam admi and came out fully impressed by the system and the people who manned it! With a little bit of tweaking they may even do better!
Also the passport was sent by speedpost as promised. There was SMS to inform, followed by an email as well. Tracking was easy, phone number given on the tracking site worked and so did the call to the post office who finally delivered.
Here is my story:
I took it easy after buying our tickets to Bangkok to attend Ayesha's wedding! I knew that my passport expired sometime in 2011. Later checked my passport and saw that it was valid till Sept 2011. Good enough, I thought, Bangkok trip used to be a routine for us.
A day later it dawned on me that my Passport would have a less than six months validity! Haven't fully understand why a minimum of six months' validity is necessary for a 15 days visa! But we have experience of what happens to passengers who arrive at Bangkok airport with a passport valid for less than six months . It is a nightmare! Travel agents for some reason do not warn passengers and now with online bookings there is no one to tell you and your learn the hard way.
It was March by then and I promptly went and got myself passport sized photographs and also other assorted sized photographs as I was there at the studio! Sheer waste of money. Speaking to friends and agents, I knew that one could apply online for a passport. I achieved this feat by myself! I had chosen the 'normal' method of processing and was a little disappointed when I was given an appointment for the 12th of April. I thought I could just make it and anyway the 'tatkal' method appeared complicated involving annexures and affidavits and hence did not try.
On the day of the appointment, I armed myself with copies and originals as of proof of both my permanent and the present addresses. The telephone bills (2), a bank letter (you also need the transcript of transactions!), the latest gas bill for my present address and my ration card, voters id and drivers license for my permanent address! Very pleased to see photocopying facility within the premises.
Typically on the morning of the day of appointment, I forgot that the whole process was computerised and I would be photographed and finger printed at the portal and rushed to print forms and fix photographs and worked hard till the last minute filling the forms manually as the PDF format did not allow me to type. All waste of time! Thinking about eventualities and getting worried is in the genes of most Indians! Especially in my generation.
The appointment was at 2.15 pm and the reporting time 1.45 pm. I was there by 1.20 pm. We all stood in a queue and were let in exactly at 1.45, I think we were about 100 to 150 in the queue. There was no special line for senior citizens. The enqiry cum document checking was in my opinion superfluous. I imagine that people who go online would have taken care of such basics.
Half the confusion and delay was due to our bunching together at the counter! Old habits die hard.
Anyway I walked into an enclosed area after the formalities and I was impressed! It was air-conditioned, with a small kiosk for baby care. A stall for tea. coffee, juice and biscuits. Very neat. There were enough monitors to tell us when our number came up and where to go. There were also people to announce token numbers and help the applicants to go to the right table.
I remember most government places in Bangkok have large halls where people can sit comfortably.
I am sure with a little bit of imagination, the whole experience could be even better. I feel that the same group of people who guide applicants around could check documents as applicants sit and wait. I did see a couple of senior citizens getting stressed while they waited standing for the document check. I was also very happy when they were allowed to jump the queue. It was also a pleasant surprise to see adequate parking facility.
I did read reports of the tatkal scheme being misused by some agents with the help of employees. Hopefully it is not serious and may soon be unnecessary.
All in all a very good and positive experience.