Identity crisis: ‘Katchra passports’ for Rs5,000 flood market

Residents say the attitude of passport officials drives them to seek other avenues.


Shamsul Islam June 26, 2011

FAISALABAD:


A large number of people in Faisalabad have protested against the late delivery of passports in the district. Locals said that Machine Readable Passports (MRP) at the Regional Passport Office were suffering because of major faults in the passport allotment and printing systems.


“Over 23 passports issued from here included improper spellings and incorrect birth dates. It took us months of standing in lines to finally get a passport and now we need to do it all over again,” People’s Colony resident Muhammad Aslam.

One of the major problems is the ‘dirty passport’ business that has gained popularity in Faisalabad. Several private agents have begun distributing ‘katchra passports’ to locals for a fee of Rs5,000. “These places are gaining popularity and even though we have caught several people it is hard to catch them all because they now contact people anonymously,” Civil Lines police Inspector Shahid Rana said.

“They have their own printing press and computer software and it is hard to tell the original passport and the counterfeit apart. The copies are very good and they deliver them to peoples houses,” he said.

Locals in Faisalabad said that the irritable behaviour of passport officials over inquiries regarding delivery of passports and standard procedures had led many people to seek out the ‘katchra passport’ agents. “One seldom even has to look for them. The moment someone comes out of the passport office looking harassed and disappointed someone contacts them. A little boy approached me with a piece of paper giving me directions on how I could procure a passport in a week,” said resident Ashraf Kamran. “I didn’t use it but I was sorely tempted,” he said.

Muhammad Aslam was told by the passport officer that the “delivery of normal passports was not possible when he came to the passport office after standing in a long queue outside the bank.” Ashraf said that the officials asked him to go back and deposit the fee for an urgent passport. “When I came back they told me the office was closed. Even the urgent passport took three weeks!” he said. “The entry gate of the passport office was locked from inside and a person standing there asked me to come on Monday or pay Rs500 to enter the office building”, resident Masooma said. “It was only 10am on Friday,” she added.

Nearly 500 to 800 applicants visit the passport office daily and the office has no space for parking. “We have to park our vehicles on the roads and the traffic police often haul them off. It is absolute torture, especially since there is a 70 per cent chance we will never get the passport on time,” she said. Passport office officials issue tokens to an average of 500 to 600 and the remaining applicants are turned away.

Tahir Hassan, a resident of Ameen Town, said that he had given Rs1,000 to an agent sitting outside the office to get his passport fee deposited in the bank and get a token. He said that the long queues were nearly impossible to breach otherwise. “I paid Rs1,000 just to get an early token and then Rs500 to be allowed in. I also ended up paying Rs2,000 to reclaim my car because it was towed,” he added. Jamal, a resident of Muhammad Pura, said that he had come to the passport office to get his date of birth corrected on his passport which had been wrongly printed by the passport authorities. “This is not my fault but they have made me run to six different offices for three weeks to correct their mistake,” he said.

The Superintendent of the Passport Office Muhammad Bashir refused to comment on the delays and said that the new system was supported by a database for online verification of all the documents.

Published in The Express Tribune, June 27th, 2011.

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