A long wait at the Karachi passport office

Published July 14, 2015
The regional passport office in Saddar.—White Star
The regional passport office in Saddar.—White Star

KARACHI: The long queues inside the passport office in Saddar are a common sight, but on Monday a horde of impatient men flocked around the data entry booth as early as 8am; nudging, falling, desperately trying to reach the manager who single-handedly tried to control the restless crowd.

Syed Abbas Jafri had reached the passport office before its opening time on Friday hoping to get his application processed swiftly, only to find that none of the systems was working.

“I waited for 90 minutes in the office but the server was completely down. I got the token and paid a Rs3,000 fee for the passport but the photo counter, biometrics, data entry nothing was working,” says Mr Jafri. “The passport office is closed over the weekend so I came in early today again, but there’s no proper system in place for people whose applications have been pending since Friday.”

In the south zone hall, there is no queue for those whose passport applications had been left incomplete; the managers try in vain to go by the token number system but the crowd has become unmanageable.

‘There’s a system failure at our Islamabad office’

“My token number was four on Friday; my turn should have come earlier. It has been an hour and I am still waiting,” says Muhammad Ahmed.

The management has devised a procedure for the ones who had to return again on Monday to complete the process, but none seemed to follow it in the south zone hall leading to the chaos.

“The person in charge at the data entry booth first has to activate the old token numbers then begin the actual process of verification. The procedure has become long and arduous,” says Zehra Rashid who has been making rounds in the office since June 8 due to her expired CNIC.

“The agents have been constantly trying to corner me since they got to know my CNIC has expired, and asked for Rs 5,000. I am new to the system being a Canadian national and wasn’t aware of this ‘agent’ setup; he could have guided me as the procedure was simple.

“This server glitch is an added delay to an already slow system. Coming with two children in this heat and going through all this is both physically and mentally taxing.”

Janah Ashok has come in to get a passport made for her son to visit India for Diwali this year, but for this they are told they needed to apply well in advance. “I came in here at 7.45am and the office opens at 8.30am, but even that wasn’t very fruitful as there was no electricity and it took them half an hour to start the generator and make the system work.”

The assistant director of the south zone, who arrives an hour late at the office, refuses to be named and gives little insight into the issue. “There was a system failure at our Islamabad office, and not just Karachi but none of the passport offices were functional in the entire country.”

Umar Saeed, an assistant director who has been in the post for a year and a half, says he knows nothing about the failure. “I was not in on Friday.”

Published in Dawn, July 14th, 2015

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