From KO Archives: Kashmiris excluded from swift passport service

SRINAGAR: Many a Kashmiris, who have been waiting for their passports over the years now welcomed and even enjoyed the news that said the passports will henceforth be issued even without waiting for the | mandatory police verification.

However, the Passport Office here today clarified that the exemption did not apply to Kashmir. “Kashmir is a special case,” said Bashir Zargar, the passport officer, “here every application will have to undergo mandatory police verification.”

As per the reports emanating from New Delhi the step has been taken by the External Affairs Ministry “as part of the measures undertaken to simply the procedures for issuance of passports.” It is worth mentioning that thousands of applications of Kashmiris are being shelved every year for want of police and other verifications. Some of the victims have even moved court in this regard.

It is alleged that police in Kashmir has fixed a price for giving positive verification report to the applicants. And those who reportedly deny to pay money to the verification officers are kept lingering on for the report for years together.

The news report from Delhi said that although police verification would continue to be undertaken, the actual issuance will not be delayed beyond five weeks if the verification process is not completed till then.

“This is not possible in Kashmir,” Zargar said “We have been instructed to issue passports only to those persons who get positive verification report from the police and different agencies,” he added.

Several other steps have been taken by the passport division to simplify the procedure of procuring passports. Complete computerizationof the organization is likely to further up the exercise launched by the passport division, reports said.

It is pertinent to mention that at present 15 out of 28 passport offices and ten collection centers, managed by only 2212 staff, are computerized but are yet to be connected in a network. In 1997 some 19 lakh passports were issued, which rose to 23 lakh in the year 1998. All passport offices across the country are being restructured to have separate counters for women and disabled persons, reports said.

While the steps being undertaken by the External Affairs Ministry is likely tobenefit thousands of people across the country, the people in J&K are likely to continue to suffer on this front.

It is alarming to note that most of the persons, who have applied for passports in Kashmir, allege that huge sums are demanded from them by the employees at Passport Office here for “securing passports without hassels.”

While most of them do not want to get quoted in newspaper reports as it would mar their chances of procuring a passport, but there are some who speak-out openely against the passport office in Srinagar. “They can keep you lingering

on for years by raising meaningless queries,” alleges one of the applicant, who hails from Khanda area of Pulwama district, but if you are in a position to grease their palms the passport will be made ready within no time and even without police verifications he alleges.

(KASHMIR OBSERVER, 28 January, 1999)

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