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Indefensible delay

November 30, 2012

IT had emerged sometime back that a massive backlog had developed in the issuance of passports, due to reasons that included absence of staff, the slow release of funds and non-payment of dues to the Security Printing Corporation (SPC) which provides the blank booklets. The Directorate General of Immigration and Passports had said that a mere 5,000 passports were being issued per day, against a daily application rate of more than 15,000. It had been hoped that the relevant administration would take urgent steps to plug the gaps, but regrettably that has not been the case. On Wednesday, the Senate Standing Committee on Interior was informed by the director general, Immigration and Passports, Syed Wajid Hussain Bokhari, that the backlog of passport applications had crossed the 300,000 mark. In September, applicants were waiting for up to two months for a document issued through the normal (as opposed to urgent) process. There does not appear to have been any change for the better. According to Mr Bokhari, the main reason behind the delay is that the money allocated to his department has not been released. Consequently, the department is unable to pay the SPC which, in turn, is releasing only 5,000 booklets a day against a much larger demand. He claimed that were the funds to be released immediately by the finance ministry and the SPC induced to provide 25,000 booklets a day, the entire backlog could be cleared within one month.

That such a crucial part of the state’s work is not being done for such a reason leaves us lost for words. Obtaining a passport is the basic right of every citizen and it is far too important a document to not issue indefinitely — particularly since many applicants need to travel urgently for medical treatment, education, employment or other reasons. Moreover, given that all the applicants affected have already paid the fees required for the issuance of their document, no excuse by the state is acceptable. The finance ministry and the passport issuing authority need to get their house in order soon.