Thursday, April 24, 2014

Tale of two passports.

Getting a passport should not be such a big deal! In fact, it was not always so.  Not many applied for passports before the Gulf rush and then the IT industry and tourism created a flood.

I had blogged about my experience three years ago as very positive! But I remember being put off, especially by the verification certificate (Annexure 'F') to be signed by one of the ten categories of 'noble persons'  ( govt.  officials etc.,) 'certifying my good moral character and reputation!  But luckily the executive who checked my papers advised me to meet a 'passport' officer and if okayed my application would be treated as 'tatkal' without this exalted verification certificate..

 It was a lady officer I met and speaking  in Kannada requested to use her discretionary powers and approve. She asked 'Don't you know anyone to sign?'  I replied that I knew a few who could sign but were retired like me and added 'I have just returned to Bengaluru and how will I meet young officers like you?' (She appeared fifty plus! No flattery here, she was young compared to an oldie like me!)

More than that, I think it was my lucky day! She consulted another officer across the table and said  'Alright I will take a risk!' and approved my application for tatkal and post issue police verification! In short, I had my new passport if not in three days as promised but within the week!

It was time for Tara to apply for her passport. While her passport was valid till 2016 and there were 4 more full visa pages. I felt it was better to get a new one as we had enough time for the process. I took a normal appointment, four weeks later,  with the idea I would request for tatkal once we got in. We were there just a little before the appointed time as there was no need to go too early. (Difficult for us older Indians!)

Again we met an officer with a request to approve our tatkal application. But our request did not work. The officer said that the system would not accept unless we had a police verification done. The reason was that the passport was issued in Thailand and the police here would have no record about us in Kumara Park. No matter that there was no change of address and her passport was valid for the next two years and could be used for proof of address in the meantime!

Apparently he was unwilling to use his discretion, but suggested that we apply for normal and upgrade after the police verification. This sounded okay and things moved smoothly excepting Tara had to wait for 45 minutes in the normal queue.

Once home, Tara true to her style, went after the police to speed up the verification process and after two visits and many phone calls, the police came home and the police verification was done! They also kept their promise and uploaded the verification data onto our file created by the seva kendra.

Amazingly in just 3 days, her file said that the Passport was ready to print. It was tempting to wait and not pay the tatkal fee which is termed as a penalty!

But by then my research warned me about the huge backlog due to shortage of books. Reason being there was a delay in the import of the special paper. I do not know if there is any connection between this and a similar story in Pakistan about a scam in the import of this special paper. I guess I was bit consoled as there were such delays in UK and in Australia in the past. It seems to be a  Commonwealth phenomenon!

This and the many stories about the long wait for months after police verification prompted us to act. We went to the RPO in Koramangala. Our impression that as senior citizens we could walk in without an appointment was right, but in all other respects we had to wait. It took Tara 45 minutes to get a token number. Not that it had any meaning later on for people waiting for tatkal. She waited for another 2 hours after submitting her file to an overworked girl. I believe the person not only handled the tatkal applications but also was thrust with other issues.

 Not surprisingly Tatkal is not a right. It is given at the discretion of the RPO  and he could refuse. We need to prove urgency and show tickets and so on. While I had written a letter to the RPO explaining why we needed a tatkal passport, I had not printed the tickets. Tara called me on my cell phone and said as per fellow sufferer seated next, tickets were a must!  I went across to print the tickets and as it happens most of the time, she came out smiling as I climbed up the stairs to give her the prints!

Anyway the passports were dispatched on the day it was promised and we received it the next day. However Tara had to collect it from the Post Office in the evening as the envelope says it is to be given only to the addressee. While on the website it says that the postman could use his discretion and give it to a family member. Such bureaucratic caveats  are unique to us. Either inherited from the Brits or it is our own genius!

There is indeed a lot of information, in fact an overload, on the website which guides you through the system. But it does work! Especially if you give it sufficient time. Barring eventualities, three months lead time is a good estimate. By the way, do not wait till you use up all the visa pages. Sacrifice a few pages for your peace of mind! In case you want it earlier or lazy to act on time, pay a penalty and get a tatkal passport.

While things are manageable, it may be a bit too much for an  aam admi. It is for this reason we see advertisements stuck on  trees which offer passport services for a fee!

 I see that some countries are able to give us a clearer picture for lead times. If you like to bench mark USA, you will be happy to see that they also have an official tatkal system. Also a US govt approved service which could be called super tatkal . You could log on to Fastport  and get your passport  in a day. Check it out!

In case you are desperate, I hear there are similar, unofficial  super tatkal systems available. I am sure the premiums are high depending on your anxiety levels.

I wonder, if Police Verification is mandatory  in other countries. Hope it really works and stops issue of passports to undeserving people. There are many valid reasons why a passport  is not issued. Passport Act  is very clear on this, but this was confusing:
 '(e) that the applicant has, at any time during the period of five years immediately preceding the date of his application, been convicted by a court in India  for any offence involving moral turpitude and sentenced in respect thereof to  imprisonment for not less than two years; 

Yet to see if such lists are made public. They may quote security reasons. But one thing is sure, it helps a few policemen earn a little tea money! Normally they do not ask but they do not mind!

 I suspect many of our systems have this inbuilt facility. While there is a lot of improvement, it is still a work in progess! Hope the seva kendra keeps improving to the extent possible!

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Why motivational articles often have the opposite effect on me.

Recently I saw an article on TIME titled '7 things the most interesting people all have in common' by Eric Barker. 
 I do not normally read such articles, but became curious to see if I had anything in common with this particular species of human kind. Apparently not!

Look at this: First, Don’t Be Boring. 
Eric says, we’re all terrible at realizing when we bore others because, well, we all think we’re just fascinatingAnd adds, If you’re always to the point and stay upbeat, it’s extremely hard for anyone to accuse you of being poor company.

I should have given up at this point.  I know this will never work for me, as I can never get a word edgewise and if I do manage the other person just walks away smiling at some nondescript fellow as if he was his long-lost friend!

2) The Most Captivating People Are Often Good Listeners. People love to talk about themselves and there are a dearth of good listeners.
Really? I should then have been the most captivating guy on earth. . But it does not happen. No one cares to impress me! 

3) Talk About The Other Person’s Interests.  This again does not happen easily. The person, assuming he stays long enough, acts as if I am prying into his or her affairs.
Some times I  switch off as all they talk about is how much money they have made and how some silly accidental purchase made years ago has made them rich! And when I try telling them how my well researched investment is now not even worth the paper it was printed on, they loose interest and look for other company.
4) Have Three Good Stories. 
Oh not again! I guess I could mug them up and give it a try. But not too sure if I will succeed.  Unless of course I corner them with no routes for escape,
Eric also says that People are generally more interested in stories about people rather than things. I guess I could try and pick up some gossip :-). Please, please will some one be patient, not get bored and give some juicy pieces of gossip?
5) Don’t Forget Charisma. Voice tone and body language are far more important. Laugh. Smile. Be passionate. Gesture. Modulate your voice. Don’t just sweat the words. 
This is a totally unfair demand. If I had charisma, I probably would not be reading this kind of motivational stuff.
6) Be Somewhere Interesting.  Research shows excitement from any source is often associated with the person you’re with — even if they’re not the cause of it.
I wonder if I am going round in circles. Who is there willing to bear with this un-charismatic dull me ?
7) And Most Importantly: Live An Interesting Life.  The groups you associate with often determine the type of person you become.
 Come on this is too much to expect. I give up! Who is out there willing to tolerate the company of a boring quiet person?

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

No grumbles as I went to renew my DL today!

I had heard horror stories so I checked with the shop owner opposite, they usually know! He said the scene was bad and set up a meeting with a facilitator! They are usually found in the ground floor shops. Most of the shops deal with preparing documents and they have moved with the times. In addition to photocopiers, digital cameras etc., many have computers, from which they upload forms!

I drove in and parked. It did not look too crowded! I felt it was my lucky day!

The facilitator was not in the shop. I casually asked the chap who was serving tea how much for their work. He said Rs 600. Soon an young man with an attitude appeared. He knew I was coming and asked me for my DL. He did not look too happy that I was there ahead of the expiry date. These guys look for complicated work.

I asked how much. He said Rs 700/-  The moment I said it was high, he walked away from me to another, grumbling he hardly makes a hundred. Anyway I had by then decided to take my chance with the RTO system!

I walked up the second floor ignoring some more guys offering help. There was a security guard at the door who let in only the applicants. The only concession he made was when he let in a man with a two year old kid! He gave me a form in Kannada which I had to get filled in by a doctor attached to a government hospital. The nearest one is about 3 kms away. I thought it was crazy as earlier there were doctors available on the premises.

However the security was nice to advise me go to one of the shops and collect forms 7, 9 and so on. And people there would help me fill up the forms. Just then I met someone I knew and she said it was simple and I could tip the guy who helped just Rs 50. As I walked down, I heard prayers being chanted and many of the shop keepers had collected in the landing area and were distributing Kosumbari, Panaka and Majjige. They were celebrating Rama Navami!

I bought the stationery necessary, in fact I had already downloaded and printed some of the forms.  I had not printed the change of address form and another to be filled in capital to be used explicitly by the computer operator. The kit included a brown file, a tag  to put all my papers together and a small plastic ziplock bag to put my DL so that it did not fall off. Finally an envelope on which I wrote my address which would be mailed to me with my DL about two weeks later! All this cost me Rs 34/-

The person who helped me prepare my file also located a doctor to check my health ( cost me Rs 100/-) came up with me up to a point on second floor and briefed me again what to do. This probably was the moment when I should have given him the tip. But I had the file in one hand and my bag in the other. In addition my helper was carrying the prasad he had collected, so his hands were also not free.  The moment passed and he walked down! He probably wanted to do one good deed on a such an auspicious day! So no tip!

The system was pretty simple, the security guard took my file and stamped a message on it. This said in Kannada that I should not forget to vote! I then waited at table number seven with a few more people. The officer arrived after about 15 minutes. May be he had gone down to offer prayers. He checked my papers and wrote Rs 270/- on my file. I went up as advised to the 3rd floor and paid up and came down and entered the Data room.

 The girl at the data room took my picture and asked me to press my left thumb on a electronic pad. And then I signed on a pad with an electronic pen. I was a little embarrassed that  it took me 5 or 6 attempts before my sign was properly recorded on the computer. The girl was patient and the man behind waiting for his turn!

I walked back to the table 7 and the man next to it collected my file and noticing that I had not pinned the receipt properly, stapled it. I thanked him and said I was very impressed with the way the office worked. I think he liked it as he smiled.

He gave me a receipt saying I could use it till I received the DL by post and added that I had to pay for the stamp he had pasted on the receipt saying it would go the TB association. I gave him a hundred and said all of it could be sent to the association! He gave me a whole page of stamps and asked me to give it to the children.

I think Lord Rama was definitely there today! First my helper walked away without collecting a tip.  Then the  clerk had actually given me Rs 124 worth of stamps. I am sure the divine calculations will benefit us all.     Rs 50/- to the helper, Rs. 24/- for the clerk and the rest to me!

Compare this to the story we used to hear about giving thumb impression in the old days! It seems the clerk would hold the left hand to help press the thumb on the stamp pad. Only the hand  would not move down unless it was weighted by a rupee coin in the palm. The clerk would help himself with it as he helped! It was an accepted practice those days!

The stamps to benefit TB association

I also saw this machine in the data room.
Glad I was not tested on it!

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Not a complete grumbler this time!

A few asked  'why no blogs?'

 Frankly my Bengaluru  ramblers had turned into to grumblers! Also the competition was severe, the news papers and others took over my pet peeves. For example, they covered the same subjects; the way we drive, the expansion of the deep inner city so that many so called better areas are now seen as a seamless continuation of the inner city, the Chickpets and Balepets!
I am not sure whether Kempegowda, founder of Bengaluru, would be proud! But he will surely be at home in these congested, over built and crowded areas. The clogged streets,  but now with cars, scooters and mammoth buses instead of buffaloes and cows.

About the total lack of play areas for children and lack of amenities for the aam admi, the poor pedestrian! I actually laughed at the campaign by one paper, 'footpath my foot'! Has anyone worked out the cost of making Bengaluru pedestrian friendly? If these improvements are made after the 'akrama - sakrama' becomes a reality it will be a battle between the road grabbers and the foot path savers! By the way have you noticed the immense construction activity in the inner cities. I wonder if they are the result of this 'sakrama' that is planned.

 I believe every one knows what this ak-sak is! Converting all illegal constructions to legal ones for a fee! We all know how dirty and ugly we have become and how some idealists are trying to defeat the so-called mafias. They mention the garbage mafia, the water mafia and so on. The real estate people are not just mafia, they practically own us.

Wait a minute, I wanted to stop grumbling. So here is my story:
I was in the bank and suddenly remembered Tara wanted me to check with appa about a draft or a banker's cheque he wanted done! I called and asked him the amount and he gave it to me. The bank in fact wanted a cheque, but agreed to use my passbook for the transaction. (The days when they would give you one loose cheque leaf is gone!) I came home happy and gave him the draft. 

Next morning he called and said that the draft was not matching the exact figure he had self-assessed as property tax. It seems he had given me a rounded off figure just to know the commission to be paid, so that he could make a cheque. I said it could be carried forward. But apparently no! The draft has to be exact according to him. 

Anyway, while playing golf, my friend Venkat said he had paid on line. A bit slow but it worked! I gave it a try and paid on line easily and it was even quick. I gave appa the receipt and he smiled till he saw the receipt was not signed. I explained that computer generated receipts were without signature. Then I noticed that the calculations had brought forward even Re1 as credit from last year! 

So I guess the clerks in BBMP will eventually learn to accept drafts which are in excess of the self-assessed tax as the system takes care. It did make sense while it was done manually! And I am relieved that I do not have go to BBMP, stand in queue to pay. Understand many are away on election duty and queues are expected to be long. Only thing is that I should not forget to get the draft cancelled.