Thoughtless Change is Dangerous

A lot happened in just 48 hours that Minister for External Affairs Ms Sushma Swaraj returned from her tour abroad. Starting with a major goof up by avoidable intervention in respect of Issuing a Passport to a couple (wrongly called Inter-faith couple),  and punishing a honest officer who did his job diligently, pointing out to glaring discrepancies (could easily be a security issue in wrong hands). When called out by Tweeps, she resorted to playing Victim by focusing on some abusive handles (miniscule numbers) but overlooking a far larger no of tweeps raising legitimate questions in more civil manner than her response just to divert the major goof up. It was juvenile response from a Senior Minister of her standing, to say the least. Firstly, dangerously concedes that she has no clue what happens in her ministry during her absence – Leadership? And then like a Nursery School spat, “Liking”/ RTing abusive tweets along with ardent supporters civil but legitimate questions.

(Click on the picture below for original tweet, which is available at the time of writing this piece)

SushmaSwaraj-PostReturn-Tweet

She compromised publicly strong advocates of the Government and supporter clubbing them with abusive handles in her unique way – blocking some of them – unblocking known Anti-Government baiters. No one but her know what this weird approach sought to achieve. You can read experience of one of the affected tweep, Shefali Vaidya in this piece 

It was downhill ever since. To justify whatever nonsensical procedural lapses happened, she embarked on even more ridiculous exercise in the name of easing the procedures of applying for a passport. Probably not related but timing makes the whole exercise suspect. Two things were in gross violation by the said applicant and both surprisingly are the issues that finds a work-around in the new policy she announced.

A brief background (details are here and here of the case to help you place it in perspective: One Tanvi Seth (@TanviAnas on Twitter) and Shadiya Anas Siddiqui in various documents applied for passport in in PSK under Lucknow RPO. Reviewing Officer Mr Vikas Mishra upon perusal of documents sought endorsement of name as found in the documents submitted and the one she sought in the application – a legitimate requirement, in fact his job as an officer. And this lady goes ballistic trying to play minority card, female victimhood, crying so much that she choked to death almost, had to use inhaler blah blah, the Officer was abusive, asked husband to convert – All denied by the officer and the eyewitness. She took to Twitter to publicise and express her misplaced grievance – as as is her wont, things moved breakneck speed.

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RPO tweets it will be enquired into, and next day with media in attendance RPO personally hands over the passport with no due processes followed and brazenly Tweets those pictures. Address was not verified which in retrospect was found wrong and in violation of the rules.

Nothing about this seem to be right. Tanvi Anas brought it upon herself with the help of a Muslim  Journalist working with ToI as per her profile (Specifying Muslim, because her timeline on twitter was nothing to do with Journalism but all about Islam and Muslim people). To top it all, the officer who did his job honestly was shunted out. Furore on Twitter forced the authorities to do a post check on the application and Police Verification of address came back with an adverse report saying applicant did not stay in the address indicated and stayed in Noida. Rule clearly specifies that if the applicant was not resident in the address for the previous year, previous address also should be indicated. Also if there are any name changes or if applicant was known by any other names the same had to be indicated.

At the time of writing this, the status of her passport application and proceedings due to violation is not known. But the minister comes out with amendment to the process. Exactly covering both the above issues. It may not even be applicable retrospectively  (but considering the cover up and damage control that is being done, we cannot rule this out) since rules that apply at the time of application applies, but hurried manner in which two of the rules were relaxed raises suspicions.

Address part is already covered by many on various forums. If the applicant has temporarily moved to a different location, application can still be submitted in a PSK or RPO closer to this temporary residence, but with actual address in the application. However, the address verification would be done in the address provided in the application (It sounds illogical, because in this scenario, the current location/address is not required at all) – Granting it is a convenience, let us discuss the next change.

PresentAddressRule

In Minister’s words : “Married men and women complained that their marriage certificates are required at passport office, we scrapped the rule. Some divorced women complained that they are required to fill the name of ex-husband and their children of their estranged father. So we changed the rule,” 

Now the risks/gaps in this process. In case of renewal/reissue currently there are documentary evidences that are called for in case of name changes or changes in entry of spouse names:

Changes to Spouse names in the new passport due to following reasons

  1. Entering Spouse name due to marriage (Addition of Spouse name)
  2. Change/Delete Spouse name in the event of:
    1. Divorce (spouse name to be deleted)
    2. Remarriage (current spouse name delete and new spouse name to be added)
    3. Death of Spouse (spouse name to be deleted)

At the time of writing this piece, documentation requirements are listed here (screenshot of the same is reproduced too)

As clear from the same, it called for producing Attested copies of Marriage Certificate, Divorce Decree, Remarriage or Death Certificate as the case maybe. Now as per the changes announced in the Press conference, you can simply add, change or delete for the same without any documentary evidence and will be accepted as true in good faith? Has the legal implication of this thought through? It can end up in legal complication since parties end up in possession of a Legally acceptable Identity and relationship document. What if some applicant falsely gets a spouse name entered in the passport or legitimate spouse name deleted and claim relationship? Also, these documents provided additional assistance for law enforcement authorities to trace criminals or those on the run. If it can be allowed in this case, why seek evidences for Date of Birth or Address. Accept that in good faith too. Excerpt of the FAQ available on the Official website

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At the time of writing despite a mail and tweet sent to Passport authorities, there was no clarification received. Will update as and when it is received.

Without addressing these concerns, thoughtless changes under the guise of Reforms or easing processes is DANGEROUS!

Update-1

Honb’le EA Minister’s Private Secretary was very well in the loop and all actions taken were after Sri Vijay Dwivedi marked Dr Mulay. Did Secretary act independently without concurrence of the EAM? I am also attaching the tweet thread (where one anonymous tweep even threatens of campaign, even before the truth surfaced) He has not responded to any tweets after the truth emerged.

SushmaSwaraj-PA Communication

VijayDwivedi-SecretaryEAM

Update-2

(As expected, RPO Bengaluru – one of the best and most responsive Passport Offices in the Country clarifies). Click on the image for source tweet (if it is still available)

RPOBengaluru-Reply

As feared, this indeed is waived off. Hence anyone can claim and make changes to entry under spouse name without any documentary backup. There are lot of legal implications in this change. Succession right, Property rights etc – Even without the named person knowing someone could have declared that person as a spouse and offer these documents as evidence. It may be proven wrong in court, but imagine the grind one has to go through

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