Friday, March 13, 2015

Passport travails and redundant work

Last March, my passport was about to lapse and I applied for its renewal, excited about the prospect of travelling to Vienna with my husband. I was told at the Passport office that my application would not even be accepted since it was not accompanied by a No Objection Certificate from the government. I therefore applied for a No Objection Certificate. The official responsible for processing my application informed rather grandly that no such certificate could be issued since I am on leave. Do I cease to be a government officer during my period of leave, he was asked. No, he answered indifferently. It is the job, however, of the office which you will join after completion of your leave period whose job it is to issue a No Objection Certificate ONCE you join that office. What happens in the meantime? How do I get my passport renewed? You can't, was the laconic reply. The situation remains unchanged a year later, and my plans to travel with my husband on his frequent travels abroad continue to gather dust. 

What a No Objection Certificate involves is this:

1. I write a letter requesting that a No Objection Certificate be issued.

2. The clerk (Dealing Assistant) opens a file, scribbles down a Note, stating that a particular government servant has requested that an NOC be issued for passport issue/renewal, and therefore, the Directorate of Vigilance may be requested to grant Vigilance Clearance. 

3. The file is submitted to the Section Officer and then to the Under Secretary. Once the Under Secretary has "approved", the file travels back to the Section Officer who also signs and the file finally returns to the Dealing Assistant. 

4. He sends a letter to the Directorate of Vigilance. The process is repeated here ---the Dealing Assistant scrutinizes the records, then submits a note stating that "Vigilance Clearance" may or may not be granted depending upon whether or not there are "vigilance" proceedings againt the government servant. The file travels via Section Officer to the Under Secretary, perhaps the Director , and then follows the same route to return to the Dealing Assistant. 

5. A letter is now issued to the office which had sought Vigilance Clearance. Here, the writing of a note, submission of file to the Under Secretary via Section Officer and the return of the file to the Dealing Assistant takes place yet again.

6. Finally, the government servant is sent a No Objection Certificate via mail.

Now, my very basic question is this ----- why does the government servant need a No Objection Certificate at all  to get his passport issued or renewed?

Is it the the government's case that no government servant can hold a passport or travel abroad if there are disciplinary proceedings pending against him? How does such restriction strengthen the government's case against the government servant facing disciplinary proceedings ? 

Is the denial of passport meant to serve as a punishment ? That would be illegal, since the penalties that can be imposed by the government are laid down in the relevant law. 

Does the government fear that the government servant will leave the country with his ill begotten wealth and never return ? For such a contingency , it can issue a Look Out Circular and ensure that the government servant does not leave the country. 

Does the government fear that the government servant against whom disciplinary proceedings have been initiated because he is involved in a criminal case could go abroad and vanish, to never return and face punishment vis a vis the criminal proceedings? For this contingency too, the government can take recourse to the simple expedient of a Look Out Circular.

Perhaps the government is anxious that the government servant will escape punishment for such conduct as unauthorised absence, refusal to comply with directions, supervisory failure etc . Well, if such a government servant travels abroad and never returns, he can be dismissed. He would have to forgo all pensionary benefits too. Isn't that punishment enough?

Why then does the government insist on spending time, money and manpower on something as redundant as an NOC for government servants who wish to get a passport issued or renewed ? Has it no better endeavours? 

There is also the interesting fact that MPs and MLAs, many of whom have pending criminal cases, seem to have no difficulty in travelling abroad ---- and at taxpayer's expense !!

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