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LAHORE, Dec 16: Following public complaints, Garden Town passport office authorities, in association with Iqbal Town’s municipal administration, have recently launched an operation clean-up against tout mafia.

Though the operation began at 10:30am on Wednesday last in and around the passport office building, the officials conducting the operation could not capture any suspect.

Earlier, the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA), in a raid in June 2010, had arrested 11 touts from the premises and vicinity of the passport office.

The suspects, however, later secured post-arrest bails as the offence was bailable in nature.

Officials say touts, after their release from jails, mostly resume their business outside the passport offices.

They say the two passport offices in the city -- Garden Town and Abbot Road -- have a capacity to handle not more than 1,000 applicants a day but tout mafia, in connivance with some passport officials, somehow manages to accommodate their ‘clients’ infringing upon the right of the applicants already in the queue.

Garden Town passport office in charge Assistant Director Mubashir Ahmad told Dawn the recent operation was launched because of presence of touts near the office.

He said as soon as the operation was launched the touts escaped from the spot. However, their tables, chairs and other material were seized, he added.

He said a mechanism of active monitoring had been evolved and the touts found fleecing and misguiding unsuspecting visitors were discouraged on a daily basis. The touts mostly offered ‘services’ like securing an ‘early token’ for their clients.

Mr Ahmad said touts had been recently removed from outside the main gate and the road leading to the main gate. He, however, said the department had no authority to act against the touts operating outside National Bank’s Barket Market branch, situated at some distance from the passport office where applicants deposited the fee.

A couple of visitors to the office told Dawn the touts usually contacted applicants on the bank premises or in the office parking and if somebody was wiling to pay they facilitated him or her in getting to the first counter.

“This is convenient for us to get a hassle-free token by paying a few hundred rupees to the tout who manages the staff and secures entry of a client into the office building,” a visitor from Johar Town said requesting anonymity.

He said though it was an injustice to those already in the queue, people wanted to avoid regular procedures to save time.

“Touts usually deposit bank fee, take the applicants along to the passport office, get their token while bypassing long queues and manage their appearance at the first counter.”

Another visitor said touts sometimes facilitated their clients in getting a token by deploying a ‘dummy’ in the queue or they altogether bypass it.

Department Sources said since interior minister Rehman Malik made OSD two senior officers -- the Punjab deputy director and the Garden Town office assistant director – over complaints of corruption, mismanagement and touts’ malpractices, the officials had become alert.

They said the officers who were made OSDs were again posted in Lahore by the higher authorities as their only fault was that they failed to extend VIP protocol to some high-ranking officials.