I was at home this afternoon when the doorbell rang, talking on the phone, contacting folks about our Thanksgiving time this weekend where we will be sharing a new tool that we have developed: a small flipchart to help people with HIV take their ART medications better.
I asked the gent that I was speaking to whether I could call him back, because I thought it was a courier. Since yesterday my old slipped disk problem has flared up again, and so I was pretty horizontal most of today. One of the advantages of phoning is that you can be supine while talking!
So over to the front door I go - and there is our local postman, with a speed post delivery.
It's Sheba's passport. Freshly printed. Delivered to the door.
We are on a Tuesday afternoon at 1.15 PM. Am I dreaming?
The previous Thursday I had uploaded Sheba's passport reissue application. Her passport had expired last year (sadly - not used abroad yet....). I was astounded to get an appointment for the next day. So on Friday at 10.30 I dropped her off at the passport seva kendra in town. She was back at JSK by 1 PM that day - with her old passport duly cancelled and an SMS informing her that her passport is being processed. Over the weekend we got other SMSes - stating that her passport had been sent for printing, had been printed, and then on Monday night we heard that it had been dispatched.
100 hours is all it took (and that too with a weekend in between) from Sheba walking in for her appointment and having the passport delivered at our door.
A normal passport. Nothing special, no special fee.
When I think about the nightmares I have gone through with my precious Indian passport...
The nadir was my camping out at the Bareilly office in 1997 - trying to get it reissued so that I could go to Uganda. Numerous times saying no to the various touts who lurked around, and numerous visits to the nightmare place - and that too after 'knowing' one of the officers there who was an acquaintance of Dad (but not in the good books of his colleagues since he was openly Christian and a strict no-bribe-man). And having finally the blessed document delivered only to find out that they had made 4 mistakes - including wrongly writing the actual number of the passport! The number that had been punched into every page and the number written on the first page differed! The long bus journey back to Bareilly, the further meetings with the officials and finally having hand written remarks in it correcting the mistakes. Real life Kafka.
And here we have the document in hand, a century of hours later.
What our government can do. With a little partnership with others. The passport seva kendras are manned by govt. staff - but only at the decision making level. The other functions are farmed out to a private company who does all the basic work. And does it ever work.
How many other functions could be farmed out this way?
My parents did not have a phone for 8 years because they did not pay the bribes the telecom wallahs were waiting for in those days. Those days are long gone with the plethora of competition from mobile companies.
But so many areas of stick-in-the-mud intransigence remain. Basic things like getting a ration card are virtualy impossible. I went 4 times to get a voter registration - and finally got it for myself, but Sheba's application is still rejected because we honestly included her old voter card from her teenaged days in Odisha. Even though the form has a place to declare that you are giving it up, the officials insisted that we get a no-objection-certificate from the officials in Odisha so that she can be registered here.
Aber Freunde, nicht diese toene, sondern angenehmere!
Just to say - so much is possible in our dear country of ours. Including getting new passports in what is basically the blink of an eye. Lets see this happen in other sectors too.