Ten years ago, I renewed the passport I got before I visited my father
at Cambridge when I was eight years old. I remember standing in a queue
for four hours before finally being told that I was in the wrong place.
I switched queues, but the second counter closed before I reached it,
and I had to go back and queue up again the next day.
That passport expired earlier this year, and I dreaded every aspect of
applying for renewal. But, thanks to a Hassath who also needed to renew
her passport, I finally got around to filling in the forms and going to
the Regional Passport Office behind the Hyatt Regency hotel in RK Puram.
(We filled in our forms together, but it later turned out that Hassath
needed a different form and had to join a different queue, while I was
in the bog-standard general category for renewal.)
One major difference today is that you have to queue up outside to get a
"token number" stamped on your application form by a counter at the rear
of the building. The applications are then processed by counters inside
the office in token sequence, and the current token at each counter is
displayed on electronic displays both inside and outside the building.
This helps to reduce queueing time, since the first counter only needs
to stamp a number on the form, and people don't need to go inside until
timetoken is nigh.
I arrived about an hour before the token counter opened at 0930. There
were some twenty people in line before me. I got my token (#17) by 1000,
then joined a very long queue of people waiting on the sidewalk to get
inside the office when it opened at 1030. This queue (which was the only
one in 1999) also drained very rapidly, because everyone just piled in
when the gates opened (the guard needing to check only for a stamped
form before letting people in).
While waiting inside, I realised that a lot of people don't understand
the token system. For one thing, the display boards are not cleared at
the beginning of the day, so they display some confusingly large numbers
(451) from the day before… but also some small numbers (35)
which are harder to distinguish from current numbers. Besides, parts of
each display don't work, and there are still always some people who try
to submit their application out of sequence. I overheard someone saying
You have to watch the display. Any number could come up at any
moment, and you have to rush to the counter when yours does.
(translating from Hindi).
The confusion helped me: several people missed their turn at a counter,
and #17 came up much sooner than I had expected. It took only a few more
minutes to submit my application, have the old passport cancelled (and
returned), and pay for the renewal. I got a receipt that says I can send
an SMS (but only during business hours!) with "PPT file-number" to 57272
to track the status of my application.
The application form for renewal was also quite easy to fill in (though
a separate "personal particulars" form must be filled in duplicate), and
one needs to produce only a few documents to support it (in my case, my
PAN card, a phone bill, and my old passport). While waiting in line at
the passport office, I was pleasantly surprised to learn that it's even
possible to apply online: you fill in the form, get a custom-generated
PDF, and can submit it—without a token—at a separate counter.
Now I have to wait for the police enquiry (to verify my address and the
"I'm not a criminal" check-boxes I ticked on the form). Let's see how
long that takes.
Update (2009-11-04): I received my passport today, but
the story continues.