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Agony staring passport-seekers in the face

March 27, 2013

LAHORE, March 26: Applying for a passport or getting one renewed has become a nightmare for citizens as the department is going through the worst crisis owing to alleged mismanagement and corruption.

The backlog of at least 300,000 applications in Pakistan and those applying to Islamabad from across the globe has adversely affected the working of the Directorate General of Immigration and Passports which is headed by a ‘handpicked’ bureaucrat of the outgoing PPP government.

Owing to the massive backlog, the manual passport renewal ordered by the interior minister a few weeks ago has made things difficult as the airport immigration officials are reportedly not accepting such a status.

The PPP regime was quick to open seven passport offices in Punjab in the last one year or so to woo their voters but the DG&IP (which was under the command of Interior Minister Rehman Malik) faces severe financial crunch, mismanagement and other irregularities. There are 30 passport offices in the province.

The crisis worsened in the last five months or so also because of unavailability of printing material, delay in issuance of tenders and its cancellation.

The applicants are suffering a great deal of inconvenience at the passport offices; the situation at two offices in Lahore took an ugly turn on Tuesday when officers in-charge were found absent from duty and the applicants were left at the mercy of the overburdened staff. The post of the Deputy Director Punjab Zone has been lying vacant for the last two months or so and Garden Town Passport Office Assistant Director Iqbal Shahid, who was found absent from duty on Tuesday, is ‘temporarily’ looking after its affairs.

This reporter during a visit found Mr Shahid and the superintendent absent from duty.

Another AD Jahanzeb Shah, who was posted at the GTPO to assist the DD in legal affairs a few months ago and used to sit at the AD’s office in his absence, was found absent, too.

The situation at the passport offices of Abbot Road and Shahdara was not different.

A number of applicants including women and elderly citizens were seen grumbling at the Garden Town passport office.

“I applied for a new passport on Monday, got token slip and stuck at the interview counter -- fifth and last in sequence. I was asked to visit on Tuesday and now I have been standing at the same counter since 9am,” said Muhammad Adil who had come from Manawan.

He said token numbers were being displayed by the computerised board abruptly but he was still in queue around 1pm. An elderly citizen at the data entry counter said he was awaiting his turn from 9:30am and at least 65 tokens were ahead of his number at quarter past one.

The applicants who thronged the office for collecting their passports on specified deadlines were given fresh dates of collection.

Johar Town resident Muhammad Mansoor said he applied for renewal of passport with a urgent free (Rs5,000) in the last week of February and was given three-week time for collection. He said he had not yet received his passport even after a month.

He questioned the performance of the department and demanded that Rs2,000 he paid as extra charges for urgent passport delivery be returned to him.

“Your passport is still in the process, so visit us after a month,” an official told another applicant.

The official, who spoke to Dawn on the condition of anonymity, said those who had applied for urgent passports (collection in five working days) till Jan 31 this year had not yet received their passports and those who applied for ordinary passports (collection in 14 working days) till Nov 30 were still awaiting them.

Asked what was the way out for those urgently requiring their passports, he said those who were approaching “someone in Islamabad head office” or simply greasing the palms of the officials were being obliged.

He said it was expected that the backlog would be cleared by April 1.

The citizens wishing to get manual renewals also are suffering at the hands of passport officials and stamp-sellers. “I was asked to get an affidavit for getting manual passport renewed and a stamp vendor demanded Rs500 though its actual price is Rs20,” complained Muhammad Ajmal.

Assistant Director Iqbal Shahid told Dawn that the applicants seeking renewal of Machine Readable Passports were being accommodated at all Punjab offices since the government issued directions a few weeks ago.

He said the Garden Town office alone had renewed hundreds of passports. He said such extensions in dates would be effective until the applicants would get their new passports when the issue of lamination papers was resolved at the federal level.

Mr Shahid said he was running the affairs of passport offices smoothly. He explained that he had to leave his office on Monday after he felt pain in chest and remained admitted to the Shaikh Zayed Hospital’s emergency the whole night. He said the doctors advised him to go for rest and that was the reason he could not turn up at his office on Tuesday.

Meanwhile, the DG&IP has posted Munir Ishaq Khan deputy director, Punjab.