Services at passport department are still in shambles

Rajkaran Mahato

Rajkaran Mahato

Services at passport department are still in shambles

People visiting the department say delays and ‘middlemen culture’ are still rife despite Prime Minister Dahal’s instruction to deliver swift, hassle-free services

It has been almost two months since Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal came to power. Soon after assuming office, Dahal issued a long list of directives to make services in government offices smooth and hassle-free for citizens. But there have hardly been any changes. People are still facing delays and difficulties in accessing government services.

This is nowhere more evident than at the Department of Passport, one of the most busiest government agencies where hundreds of service seekers visit everyday to obtain passports.

Lack of job opportunities at home is forcing many youths to go abroad for jobs, but getting a passport—the first step of foreign job application process—is riddled with delays and rigmarole, making their predicament more acute.

Ask any service seeker visiting the Department of Passport, and they will tell you how the state that cannot provide them decent jobs at home is equally unable to issue them passports in a swift, hassle-free manner. Many of these service seekers are from outside Kathmandu and have taken loans to apply for overseas jobs. They are facing additional financial burden when they have to spend several days or weeks in Kathmandu to get their passports.

It took Chandra Bahadur Bohora of Bajhang 20 days to get a passport. In this period, his expenses, including food and accommodation, were over Rs 50,000.

“I came to Kathmandu because I was told that I could get my passport within a matter of days. But I had to go through so much trouble,” said Bohora. “I don’t know why the government is not doing anything about this.”

There are hundreds of people like Bohora who are putting up with the hardship of waiting in long lines and being fleeced by middlemen at the department on a daily basis. This is despite the introduction of the e-passport system in which applicants were supposed to receive their passports within three days of providing their biometric details.

As service delays continue to mar the department, many applicants from outside Kathmandu are forced to spend a lot of money for their passports.

Kapil Bishwakarma, who hails from Jhapa, came to Kathmandu to renew his passport because his online application was rejected four times.

“I got my passport in the fifth attempt. Earlier, my application was rejected because apparently the biometrics details and photos of my old passport were not good,” he said.

Bishwakarma’s expenses during his stay in Kathmandu were five times more than the fee charged by the government for the passport. He had no idea about the application process when he came to Kathmandu to renew his passport.

“I was told it would take at least a month to renew my passport in Jhapa. Somebody told me, it could be done within 24 hours in Kathmandu. That is why I came here,” he said. “Why should we suffer for the shortcomings of the department?”

Rajkumar Chaulagain of Okhaldhunga felt like he had won a war when he finally received his passport.

“I had to spend Rs 40,000 to get the passport,” he said. Like Bohora and Bishwakarma, he too had come to Kathmandu for urgent passport service.

The involvement of middlemen makes it even more challenging for ordinary citizens to obtain passports. Ishan Khadka of Dolakha said some middlemen are charging up to Rs 10,000 from innocent service seekers just for online forms that are available for Rs 250.

“There is no one to stop them. It’s sad to see Nepalis exploiting fellow Nepalis,” he said. “The government’s system is only benefiting the middlemen. Those having connections with leaders and senior officers can complete the process in less than an hour. There is no assistance available for commoners like us.”

There is a daily demand for more than 10,000 units of passports across the country. However, the department is printing only around 6,000 units a day. There is also issue with the server not being able to handle large volume of applications.

An official at the department said the server is designed to handle a maximum of 2,500 users per second.

“When the number of users exceeds its limit, the server crashes causing delay in service delivery,” he said, adding that they were planning to increase the server’s capacity.

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