Monday, June 02, 2008

Digital Divide

Applications for passports in India have gone online. My brother has applied recently for the same. The procedure is straight-forward. You need to visit the passport website (, fill-in some simple information about yourself like name, DOB, address etc and then submit the form. It will ask you to choose a date for appointment. Next it will generate a unique key and a partially filled-up 6-pageform in .PDF format. This form has the appointment date and time printed. You have to take a printout of this form. You can reprint the form later, too, with the help of the key. You need to fill-up the rest of the fields by hand and meet the official at the passport office on the appointed date with relevant supporting documents. Quite simple!

Today I went to the Regional Passport Office, Kolkata with my brother to submit the form. It was around 9 AM in the morning, almost one hour before the official time to open the office. Our appointment was at 10.30 AM. As it used to happen earlier like when I had my passport 5 years back, we saw a huge queue of around 150 plus persons standing in front of the office to submit the passport applications. On inquiring the private security at the gate we got to know that these people had bought the forms from the counter (offline). Those who had applied online needed not to stand in the queue. He told us to wait to be called after 10 AM. My brother went in around 10.15 and within 30-40 minutes it was over while the long queue hardly progressed. There was a separate counter to process online applications inside.

Now I wonder, just because we knew that the application can be made online and had the necessary facilities like broadband internet, printer etc we got it over so quickly while those waiting in the queue had a terrible time getting their work done. Some of them had come very early in the morning, if not last night. I talked to some of them. It seemed they are not aware of this online facility. May be the passport office was not proactive enough to advertise this new facility. In fact I saw a banner at the entrance which says "Passport application forms are available here", but no mention of the online facility. It may also happen that though some of them are aware of the online method but not interested enough to explore it or they do not have the necessary means and facilities needed for the online application.

This is really a sad thing. It's disheartening to see how a certain section of our society is reaping the benefit of technology while others are lagging behind. The online method is very effective. You can come at your appointed time so that you need not wait for hours. My brother was arguing that if people are given specific times of appointment and someone fail to turn up at their designated hours it would be a waste of time for the passport office and also it would unnecessarily push back other applications. This is true. Currently the people can buy the application form offline and submit it any day they wish. But there are ways to get around the problem my brother mentioned like slapping fines for missing dates.
Picture: Queue in front of Kolkata Regional Passport Office extends to UCO Bank gate

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