Can we get rid of touts? Yes We Can!

A friend recently had an eye-opening experience, which made him and me realize that things have already started changing for the better in India. He readily agreed to my request to him to share his experience in the form of two Guest Posts on my blog. At his insistence, names and places have not been mentioned. Here’s the first Guest Post. Please do share this Guest Post with as many people as you can.

I was ecstatic when I received the email informing me that, based on my presentation at the international seminar on Sustainable Building at Mumbai two months earlier, I was being offered the opportunity to work for 6 months with one of the world’s leading experts on green construction! Apart from being my first trip abroad, I would get to meet one of the greatest persons in my field and experience the work culture in the construction industry in his country, about which I had read so much. My employer was equally ecstatic that I was getting this opportunity. He was also relieved to know that my 6 months’ assignment would start only 4 months later. That gave us sufficient time to complete the ongoing project that I was in charge of.

I already had a passport. I decided to apply for the visa immediately. From the embassy’s website, I got a list of documents that I had to prepare before getting a visa interview appointment. It seemed pretty simple at first glance. I had to get a Police Clearance Certificate (PCC) from the Passport Seva Kendra (Passport Office) in my home city and 3 affidavits, all duly notarized, attested by the Secretariat in the city in which the embassy was located. Fortunately, the embassy was located in the same city as our ongoing project.

Obviously, I first had to obtain the PCC. Since I had absolutely no idea about the procedure, and was very busy with my work, my employer spoke to his regular Travel Agent, who gave him the contact details of the “Passport Agent” who had been doing such work for their clients for over 7 years and was a reliable person, and requested him to deal directly with the “Passport Agent”.

I telephoned the “Passport Agent”, who told me that the process set up by the Ministry of External Affairs was a tedious one which involves registering online and then getting an appointment for a personal interview at the Passport Seva Kendra. Normally, interview appointments were available 4 to 5 weeks later, but he could get me an appointment within 4 days using his special “Agents’ Quota”. His fee would be Rs. 1500, payable by cash in advance, and included any possible ‘fixing’ if there was any problem during the interview.

That evening, I met the “Passport Agent”, gave him the photocopy of my Passport and paid him Rs. 1,500. He promised to call me the next afternoon to tell me the interview date and time.

The “Passport Agent” called me at 1.30 pm the next day, and told me that, despite extremely heavy demand, he had somehow managed to get me an interview appointment for 10.30 am 3 days later. He requested me to collect the interview appointment form from him that evening.

A few minutes later, my employer’s son, an engineering student, who was in our office that day since he had a week’s break after his mid-semester examinations, suddenly exclaimed to me, “Uncle, why did you pay that guy to get you an appointment? You could have done it yourself in a few minutes without even getting up from your chair! I checked on the Ministry of External Affairs website just now. Appointments are easily available, including for the date and time he’s got for you!”

I felt cheated and was extremely upset by the fact that this man had made a fool of me. I told my employer that I’ll blast the “Passport Agent”, but he calmly told me to do no such thing, at least until I had got my PCC. He explained that, since my appointment had been obtained by the “Passport Agent”, it would be prudent to avoid antagonizing him. While such people may not be capable of constructive work, they can be of tremendous nuisance value. I agreed, but requested him to have the interview appointment form collected from the “Passport Agent” by somebody else that evening because I was sure I would not be able to control myself if I met the “Passport Agent”.

The interview itself was a very pleasant experience. The atmosphere was more like that of the office of any large private sector company. The processing of documents had been outsourced to an IT company. Thus, the mundane work (scrutinizing and scanning the documents, uploading the photograph, entering of data, and printing the PCC) was done efficiently by young IT professionals, while the officials sat at their desks and signed the documents presented to them. There was a token system and the entire area was air conditioned. Within two hours, I had my PCC! I realized that the “Passport Agent” had just bluffed about the “possible ‘fixing’ if there was any problem during the interview.”

I had learnt an important lesson. In the past, since information was very difficult to obtain, most persons had no option but to believe people like the “Passport Agent”, who is nothing but a tout. But, these days, information can be obtained on the internet very easily about most things. Most Government departments, especially those which many citizens need to deal with, have very informative websites, and quite a lot of work can be done through these websites. It’s not even necessary to know the exact name of the website or the office/Department. For example, if you are looking for the website of ‘Consular, Passport & Visa Division, Ministry of External Affairs, Government of India’, just search for Passport Office on Google, and you reach the website. Quite a bit of work can be done online e.g. downloading of forms, fixing interview appointments. Things have also changed inside the offices, mainly due to the introduction of technology.

Can we get rid of touts? Yes We Can!

This was only the first part of my Guest’s visa experience. More interesting things will follow in his second Guest Post on October 17, 2013!

17 thoughts on “Can we get rid of touts? Yes We Can!

  1. The entire Ministry of External Affairs is a completely different place ever since SM Krishna took over during the UPA 2 regime. He has managed to outsource all processes of the same to IT Companies and the entire process is now extremely hassle free and computerized leaving these so called Passport Agents without a job to do.

    Nice post, will help readers figure out the various tricks that these agents have to resort to nowadays.

    • Quite a few things have changed in the last few years. Sadly, most people are completely or partially unaware of these changes, hence they prefer to go through touts (or ‘agents’ as they call themselves).

  2. Had a pleasant experience with a policeman who visited with prior appointment for the necessary verification. The experience was extremely pleasant and congenial sans the expected demand for unacknowledged receipts. The official shared the reference of communication being sent to the passport office so as to avoid the mundane and oft quoted reason of blaming the police authorities for the delay in processing at the passport office.

    • I know of cases where the policeman himself did not ask for anything, but the applicant asked if any payment was expected. In some of the cases, the policeman told the applicant that it was up to the applicant, so the applicant tipped the policeman. In other cases, the policeman stated that there is no need to pay anything. What happened in your case?

  3. So many who need these services are themselves (almost) illiterate – so have no option but to go thru these agents. Hence – these agents will always thrive – look at the railway booking system.

    These touts may not be required for educated people like us – but then we are hardly the majority. My driver routinely used these touts – until I finally started to book tickets on his behalf.

    • Ketan, people like us should try to help those who are unable to do these things themselves. I myself have booked tickets on behalf of persons who are not computer-literate. We could also advise them to book tickets through authorised agents of IRCTC (available at many locations) who will do this for a nominal fee fixed by IRCTC.

  4. A very pertinent post. Yes, things have changed for good within the passport office, but the police officer who comes for checking still doesn’t leave without taking his ‘cut’ to get you your rightful passport.

    • Quite a few persons, including I, have experienced the opposite. The policeman himself did not ask for anything. In some cases, the applicant asked if any payment was expected. If the policeman told the applicant that it was up to the applicant, the applicant tipped the policeman. If the policeman stated that no payment is needed, no payment was made. I’m not sure whether this happens all over the country.

      • What happens if the person politely refuses to pay? Corruption will not vanish just because we want it to. Each one of us must act against it. Unfortunately, most of us choose the path of least resistance.

      • Refusal made the officer put a negative remark for no reason and finally the person had to pay Rs.8000 in order to get his passport in time.

      • If we are really serious about doing away with corruption so that our country becomes a better place for our children to live in, we must take a stand, even though we know it may result in inconvenience.

      • True.
        But these buggers know when and where to hit. The person in discussion had to do it because he would have lost is job otherwise. He had to report to work in the States and had lost his Passport. The officer knew it all from the FIR copy attached to the application form and knew that he was in need.

  5. i enjoyed reading that, Pro. I’ve stubbornly abstained from paying touts for several things that i had to get processed by Government offices and succeeded. I’d like to show you a post I wrote some time back. Will email you. Just for the “feel-good-ness” 😀

    On the other hand, I am amused to recall an instance where my uncle and I rushed to a theater to see a movie and seeing the ticket counters deserted, assumed the tickets were sold out and quickly bought a couple of tickets from a tout for double the price, only to find that the theater was practically empty and the ticket counters were open. 😀

    I look forward to reading your friend’s next post.

  6. Your friend’s experience is an eye-opener!
    There are agents in every department/function… but now since most things are streamlined/online, we usually have a less harrowing time in govt offices. Yes, we must certainly do away with touts!

  7. Pingback: Fortune favours the ethical! | Proactive Indian

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