Getting a Passport - My experience!
The passport is perhaps the most important travel document one can ever have! The passport allows a person to travel from one country to the other - being an important travel document, the passport is issued after detailed background verification. I am presently holding my third passport - the process of getting each of these was different. The process became easier over the period.
Circa 2007 - My first passport!
I was in final year of my Pharmacy degree. Those days, the nearest Passport office was in Thane (Maharashtra). Passport Seva Kendras didn't exist then. We had to apply through the Regional passport office. One didn't have to visit the office in person - the application was a handwritten form, and a photograph used to be pasted on. I had visited the office, in person, to submit the form - if I recall, I hadn't used an agent. The application form is verified by the officers, and a paper form for police verification is sent to the nearest police station. Those days, I used to check the nearest police station once in a while - my paper hadn't reached there. After a month of waiting, the police constable at the passport cell advised that I must check with the Police Commissionerate and find if my paper was stuck there.
I reached the police commissioner's office - head to the passport cell, and talk to the officer there. He takes my file number and checks his register - he said my paper is already at the police station, and has been there since a month. I tell him what happened - he checks the register again, and updates me that my home now falls under a new police station, and the file was there! I rush to this new police station (which was working out of a rented house then) - and my paper was there! But the officer who handles this was on leave - I get the police verification done a day later, and receive my first passport. I remember my excitement on that day.
Circa 2011 - My second passport!
It was in late 2010, if I recall correctly, that I wanted to get the address in my passport changed. My previous passport had our old Navi Mumbai address - we had moved to Kerala in 2008. I headed to a nearby travel agency - the process of passport application had changed a lot by now. The agency said I had to apply directly to the passport office now - agents weren't really welcome. He told me what all documents I required and explained the procedure in brief. I couldn't do that immediately - and days went by. In early 2011, I remember that I had to complete the address change procedure - but the passport was no where to be found!
I searched every corner of my house - it was no where to be seen. I went back to the travel agent and checked if I had left it behind - he checked with his staff as well - so the passport was missing! After a lot of enquiries, I was told that I had to apply for a new passport along with a notarized affidavit that I had lost the passport. I did all this documentation and headed to the passport office - the passport officer found out the file number of my previous passport and helped me with the application form. Here comes the catch - I had to file a police complaint, and get a report from there.
So, the next stop was the police station. A report was filed, and I was told to put a "lost" advertisement in at least two newspapers. I did all this, and now filed a passport re-issue application. I had to take an appointment, and visit the passport office in person. The officer at the counter verifies all the details given in the application form, cross verifies with the documentary proofs submitted and confirms the details. After all that is done, an acknowledgement is issued. He informs that I will get a call from the police station once they receive the verification request.
A week or so later, I receive a call from the police station asking me to visit the police station with all the documents that I had shown at the passport office. He verified my police report about the lost passport - this actually delayed my passport a little bit, since they waited till a report was given by the police station that had received my complaint (I had filed the lost passport report at a different police station). I think it took two more weeks for the police verification process to complete - finally an SMS arrives on my phone stating that my passport has been dispatched! I received my passport a few days later. My excitement as no less when I got the new passport either!
Circa 2021 - My Third passport!
Time to renew my second passport. I realised that the expiry of my second passport was less than 4 months away. I checked out the procedure for renewal, and I understood I had to apply for re-issue. The online application form is quite simple and straightforward - all information was uploaded. Unlike the past, you don't have to print the form - photographs, signature are all collected at the Passport Seva Kendra (PSK) - and nothing was to be uploaded. Once the application form is completed, you pay requisite fee for the passport (Rs. 1500, in my case) and then schedule an appointment at the PSK.
The application acknowledgement clearly stated that I needed to carry original and 1 copy each of the documents that supported my identity proof and date of birth, along with my old passport. In fact, shops located outside the PSK exactly know what documents are required - taking copies from the shops there are expensive. You can get copies at a cheaper price inside the PSK! You need to report to the PSK before your scheduled appointment time - I (rather, We, since TW had also applied for a passport along with me) had reached about 30 minutes before my appointment (15 minutes earlier than the scheduled reporting time) - the security guard at the PSK allowed us in earlier.
So you first go to the verification counter - the counter verifies your application (you need to should you appointment message to them) and checks all the documents. They check if you have copies of the required documents - they pin it all together, and write down a token number on it (the token number is also sent by SMS). At the next stage, a security verifies the token number and directs you to specific counters (the token number and counter number is sent to your registered mobile number, and also displayed on large LED screens kept in the waiting area). By the time you walk down to the counter - the agent at the counter would have your application ready - in my case, the agent was calling out my name already.
This level of counters are called "A counters" - your application is verified here - you have the opportunity to make corrections at this level (any major corrections would require supporting documents) - do remember to check all spelling before you okay this form. This is followed by a photo session - they use a DSLR camera to capture your photo (I believe the software has 'guide' lines - they make sure you look straight into the camera, and fit in to the guide-lines). They let you review the photo - in my case, the agent took a second photo. Then the application is printed out, and you need to sign on this (this signature is printed on the passport) - this is followed by biometrics (similar to Aadhaar). At this point, they try selling their "passport cover" - priced at Rs. 400 and above, these are basic covers that has some card slots and a slot to place your passport. Completely unnecessary - IMHO. They pushed hard - TW being a first timer, bought 1 of the basic cover. Your form is scanned at this counter - all the information is now digital.
Once all the formalities are over at the A counter, you proceed to the "B counter" - the officer here would verify all originals and match with the application form. Once this is over, you move to the "C counter". At this level, all the originals are cross-checked again - the officer finally says my form is approved, and put the "Passport Cancelled" seal on my old passport, and also punches a hole on the cover page, on the "machine-readable zone," to be specific. All the originals, and even the application form that was printed out at the A counter is returned to you. You directly exit the PSK at this point. I was out of the PSK in less than 15 minutes after having completed all the formalities! I had also received an SMS stating that my application was "granted" subject to "pre-police verification".
That is, my passport will be issued subject to a "positive" police verification report. Usually, re-issue of passport, with the same address as before, doesn't require police verification - probably this was random, or may be because I had applied for inclusion of TW's name in my passport. On the next day after my visit to the PSK, I received an update that my application is forwarded to the district Superintendent of Police office. I received a call from the local police station the same evening to confirm my address, and I was told that a police officer will visit my house the next day for verification. He couldn't turn up the next day (lets call it D3, considering D1 as the day I visited the PSK). He turns up on D4 morning - he apologized for not being able to come the previous day - I really liked the politeness of the person. He quickly verifies documents - notes down the details he requires and goes away.
On D4 evening - the status on the website has been updated to "Report from police station received - review of District SP pending". On D5 morning, the status further updates to "Police verification received. Passport printing initiated". On D6, the website updates that "Passport printing completed", and by evening, I receive an SMS stating that my passport has been dispatched. On D7 morning, the friendly local postwomen delivers my passport! A passport issued in 6 days flat! Mine was a "re-issue" - but TW's was a fresh passport!! Both done in 6 days (might have been possible in 5 days if the police verification wasn't delayed by a day) - digitization has made passport issue really easy!
Things are all fine if your papers are all in order - some pointers if you are planning to apply for a passport:
1. Make sure your name is spelt exactly the same in all your documents. We often ignore this part in marksheets - this gets troublesome only when you use it for an official purpose. If there is a spelling mistake in any of your documents, please get it corrected ASAP. Do not wait for the last minute.
2. Make sure you keep your birth certificate safe - people of my age can produce their SSLC/SSC marks cards as age proof - but people born in the mid-90s (and onwards) need to produce their birth certificate.
3. Make sure your Aadhaar card displays your entire date of birth, and your current address correctly.
4. Do not fake your information - a lot of students fake their address when applying for a passport. Please don't do that. You have an option to apply as a "student staying away from parents" - the only hitch here is that the police verification is done at two places - at your permanent residence and your college hostel (or wherever you stay).
5. Its best to use your Aadhaar as identity and address proofs - a single document serves both purposes. You need to provide your SSLC/SSC certificate to receive an "Emigration Check Not Required (ECNR)" status. If you do not get an ENCR status - it is now called as "Exempt from ECR" - you might need to obtain emigration clearance from the Protector of Emigrants prior to traveling to certain countries. In short, you would require two documents - Aadhaar and SSC/SSLC certificate!
The passport issue process is very simple!