My Apostille Woes and Shashi Tharoor…

8 Jan

My book was published this July and I got my first royalty statement soon after. My contract with Galileo Press was executed in the US and hence this required me to apply for a TIN to get the actual payment as well as claim tax exemption from the Indian Government. The process, it seemed, was simple, fill a couple of forms and mail it with a notarized copy of my passport duly apostilled by the Ministry of External Affairs.

And this is where it all began. A visit to the MEA office in Kolkata got me the response that since my passport was issued in Trichy (It was issued while I was still in college), I would need to visit the passport office there and get it verified (?). Somewhat perplexed, I landed up in Trichy Passport office who told me that I would need to visit the Chennai MEA office to get my passport apostilled. At a loss for what to do I called up the MEA office in Kolkata again seeking for help and the response that I received floored me. It was not under their “jurisdiction” to get my passport, which was issued in Trichy, apostilled. I would need to go to the New Delhi office instead. All attempts to argue over the fact that that my passport was a central government issued document and not a state government issued one and hence should be verifiable from anywhere in the country only yielded curt and irritated replies and this was where I almost gave up.

Not quite. I had been following our Minister for External Affairs, Dr Shashi Tharoor on twitter for quite a long time and have been thoroughly impressed by him. Before that I liked him as an author and his Great Indian Novel has been a favourite sice college. The respect and admiration increased when I had the chance to meet him at a Tweetup in Bangalore.

I decided to reach out to Dr. Tharoor for help. I mailed him and everyone in his office whose email I could gather explaining my apostille woes to him. Not that I expected a reply. I mean, I was one of the many that maybe reach out to him every day with more complicated problems and he is a busy man. On top of that the indian government is not known to be internet and email savvy though it seems things are changing. I waited.

A week went by and I had almost given up when I was pleasantly surprised to receive a mail from Mr Hoti Lal who works for Dr Tharoor’s office and who’s been requested by Mr Sandeep Chakravorty, private secretary to Dr Tharoor to help my cause. Still awestruck, and a couple of mails later i received the following reply :


Dear Mr. Bhattacharjee,

Please refer to your mail for getting your passport apostilled by MEA authorities. In this connection, we had written to the Head of Branch Sectt, Kolkata, Dr. R. Sivakumar (copy of our communication is attached herewith).  After accepting your application, they can verify the particulars from PO Trichy as the passport is issued by them and render the necessary service to you.

You may kindly get in touch with the Branch Secretariat Kolkata at: 2 Ballygunge Park Road, Kolkata (Phone no. 033-2279701 / 22802686)

Regards,
Hoti Lal

PS: Sorry for the delay in reply. I had given the fax to my colleague to scan the fax and send it you by e-mail, however, it got skipped.

Fax from MOSSTO

Fax from MOSSTO

Elated and over the top, I reached out to Dr Sivakumar in Kolkata, set up an appointment and met him. He turned out to be a very nice gentlemen and eager to help. I was directed to Mr Sagar Maitra, the Administrative officer of the MEA office in Kolkata and I met up with him. A very nice and knowledgeable person who loves to talk about everything, Mr Maitra and I chatted over various topics from literature to religion for over an hour and by the end of it I had an apostille stamp on the notarized copy of my passport.

This incident did change something. It changed the way I perceived how the government works. This led me to believe that maybe all is not lost and things still work as it should in India. Lastly it instilled a firm belief that at least someone from the government is trying to actually walking his talk of “demystifying the governance process”.


Thanks a lot Dr. Tharoor. I would vote for you.



PS: This post has been chosen as BlogAdda’s Spicy Saurday Picks


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  • Vinay, you totally echo what I wanted to convey through this post. The media always seems to be holding Dr Tharoor to task for what he chooses to convey on twitter and I've seldom seen them go ahead and highlight something good that has been done.
    Why only Dr Tharoor but it seems to be the norm of the media for every other polictician till now and I sometimes feel that it is more for the sensationalism rather than actually trying to highlight the cause.

  • great post dude !!

    The point here as Abesh puts it. Is why does the media choose to ignore the good things done by Mr Tharoor but mindlessly bring out controversies. Isnt it so obvious that its for the grouse they have against him for bypassing conventional media..

    n I do not think anybody is trying to say that once Mr Tharoor has arrived all problems have vanished. He is the only politician even I have met and interacted. India needs so many more like him.

  • Just goes to show that the Indian Government works under the influence, either of a carrot or a lathi.

    Mr. Tharoor's help in this case was an exception. What about all the people who are not “internet enabled” and can therefore only dream of contacting high ranking Govt. Officials?

  • sharatsripada

    Hi,
    I'm glad this worked for u; guess u got lucky! But, may be you should look at the bigger picture, you can be a Superstar here 🙂
    I'd suggest, u get in touch with the incumbent offcials (who you seem 2 have mustered good rapport with) and get this sealed forever through an amendment or bill or whatever. Indeed, the “Passport IS a central government issued document and not a state government issued one and hence should be verifiable from anywhere in the country.” , and it simply ought to be that way.
    So hang on, perhaps you shud decide on who 2 cast ur Vote for (doesn't seem like we have a lot of choice anyways) wen the passport is truly, verifiable from anywhere in the country.
    Cheers!
    Sharat Sripada.

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  • Rohit Todwal

    This is good that Mr. Tharoor helped you, but this is simple work which can be done by any politicians, but currently the main question is “What they are doing to save Indians in Australia…”. They cant be very neutral for this situation… Mr. Tharoor do you have any answer on this?

  • shyam17

    Thanks for your clarification.I am convinced that you are apolitical, so am I.India has had the privilege of having extraordinary personalities manning the MEA.right from Sardar Swaran singh,Dr.Karan singh, Raja Dinesh singh, A B vajpayee,Natwar singh, Jaswant singh, Yashwant sinha and now SM Krishna. In comparison,ST is naive and still to learn the nuances of the political system in India. He is still an understudy, and has miles to go to reach those heights, and before long, I hope he will learn the art of calling a spade a shovel. Best of luck to him.

    Presence on twitter is not the correct parameter to judge the transparency or otherwise of a political leaders. There are excellent leaders across all political parties who have for decades reached the barefoot villager in the rural India and they are not on twitter.The real India resides in its villages.ST is a non entity there.His priority should be to reach the Indians in India rather than in other countries.

    Having said that, I must confess that, I am an ardent fan of ST and have followed all his recent speeches,including TED,CNN.IBN, and Aap ki Adalat. I have also tried to spread these videos to as many people as possible through my blog.

    I definitely would like him to follow in the footsteps of great MEAs that India had.

    Best wishes,

    Shyam

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  • I DO believe that all is not lost ! However my experiences with other government departments have not been pleasant either. I agree to the fact that a MOS need not be involved in the day to day running of his department but the fact that he took up charge to set things right, for even an issue as petty as mine, is what really struck me. The fact that there are no examples, that I have seen, in which such a thing has happened only made it stand out more in my eyes.
    I am an apolitical person and I do not want to comment on how someone is running the government or how things were earlier. However I would like to quote Mando's earlier comment that “The indication of a good organization is never the top management (they are usually pretty good anyway) but the middle management – and the middle management usually sucks.”
    All I wanted to highlight in this post is that things are changing the way governance is done in India and I believe for the better.
    The governance maybe demystified in all the other ministries but for the common man it's still an enigma. I really do appreciate the steps that the ministers on twitter are taking to ensure more transparency in the governance process for the common man.

  • prakash

    Absolute bollocks, only expected to have reported in India.
    Cheers
    An Indian

  • shyam17

    I do not agree with Abesh that all is not lost.If it takes a Dr. Shashi Tharoor to accomplish such a small tasks, it reflects poorly on the way Shashi Tharoor and co are managing the MEA. MEA is not a single owner kirana shop where the head has to be involved in small daily activities. I have dealt with other ministries, they work more harmoniously, and a MOS is not involved for such a small activity. The governance is already demystified in all ministries. There are excellent Bureaucrats manning the position of secretaries, Deputy Secretaries, Assistant secretaries, under secretaries.
    Abesh should remember that Government used to run efficiently even before Dr. Shashi Tharoor became MOS MEA

    Shyam
    http://www.twitter.com/shyam17

  • ostrich4

    horrible red tape

  • @mp Where exactly in the blog did I extol chamchagiri or inefficiency ? I just tried to highlight the fact that the upper echelons of the Indian government are just becoming more and more tech savvy and accessible to the aam junta and even agreed to look into an issue as insignificant as the one I had.

    I believe that maybe things in the government offices will change once they come to know that their bosses listen to commoners like us and we can even take them to task if they are inefficient ?

    When has lamenting ever got your job done ?

  • Awesome.. So cool..Congratulations on your book.. what is it on..

    p.s. I could google that info out but would like to hear it from the author 😉

  • mp

    Does this really prove an increase in the efficiency if anyone who needs a file to move in the MEA will need to personally contact Mr Tharoor before they do their job? Ofcourse Mr. Sivakumar and Mr Maitra at the Kolkatta office were generous with their time and attention once they knew you had contated the minister. The point I'm trying to make is inside of lamenting the mind set of our govt deptments that service the public, you are encouraging chamchagiri and inefficiency.

  • Bimal

    Thats awesome news Abesh – it goes to show till you try you will never know what will / would have happened.

  • Congrats on finally getting it done.
    Twitter’s finally done something good I see. 🙂

    Wonder if Tharoor would want to tweet this post and attract similar requests?

  • Congrats on finally getting it done.
    Twitter’s finally done something good I see. 🙂

    Wonder if Tharoor would want to tweet this post and attract similar requests?

  • @Raghu Apostille is not specific to a passport. I just wanted a notarized xerox copy of my passport apostilled which I need to send over to my publishers in the US in order to get a TIN. This is a very specific requirement.

  • @Raghu Apostille is not specific to a passport. I just wanted a notarized xerox copy of my passport apostilled which I need to send over to my publishers in the US in order to get a TIN. This is a very specific requirement.

  • Raghu

    Interesting thing is that such a push is needed for a simple task. Second question is why cant such passport changes be made simpler like an address /photo change or ECNR activity.

  • Raghu

    Interesting thing is that such a push is needed for a simple task. Second question is why cant such passport changes be made simpler like an address /photo change or ECNR activity.

  • Mando

    Sigh, that is true. The positive part is that at least the top echelon was accessible and sweet enough to get things moving, instead of throwing “tu jaanta hai main kaun hoon” dialogues 🙂

    So, yes – positives are there!! 😀

  • Mando

    Sigh, that is true. The positive part is that at least the top echelon was accessible and sweet enough to get things moving, instead of throwing “tu jaanta hai main kaun hoon” dialogues 🙂

    So, yes – positives are there!! 😀

  • @Pooja True. But there’s also the fact that lot of the government officials are not aware of the existing regulations at all. When I approached them for the apostille they wanted me to get the passport verified by the issuing authority. Their reason being they’ve been handling documents like birth certificates which were state issued and were blindly following the same for a national document like the passport. They said that mine was the first case in that office who wanted a national document to be apostilled.

    I agree too about the fact that it became easier once I had the letter from Dr Tharoor’s office. I tried to use schedule an appointment with Dr Sivakumar over the phone but it was impossible to reach to him through the various layers of officials around him. Same with the MEA. When I reached there they told me that they would not hear me because it was already past 1:00 PM. Only when I showed them the letter did they agree to let me go up and meet Mr Maitra 🙁

  • @Pooja True. But there’s also the fact that lot of the government officials are not aware of the existing regulations at all. When I approached them for the apostille they wanted me to get the passport verified by the issuing authority. Their reason being they’ve been handling documents like birth certificates which were state issued and were blindly following the same for a national document like the passport. They said that mine was the first case in that office who wanted a national document to be apostilled.

    I agree too about the fact that it became easier once I had the letter from Dr Tharoor’s office. I tried to use schedule an appointment with Dr Sivakumar over the phone but it was impossible to reach to him through the various layers of officials around him. Same with the MEA. When I reached there they told me that they would not hear me because it was already past 1:00 PM. Only when I showed them the letter did they agree to let me go up and meet Mr Maitra 🙁

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  • Hi Abesh,

    Good to hear about your experience.
    Well it gives two insights. The good one – Our government is becoming tech savvy and the fact that the top management looked at a simple issue like this too.

    The bad one – government offices are still stuck with the old process of working only when you have a push/approach. The only reason the government officials treated you well was because of the letter from Dr. Tharoor’s office.

    Whereas, it is the need of the hour to make the processes efficient enough to work on their own and not require push/approach.

    I myself faced a lot of problems in the passport office in New Delhi. The officials sitting there would approve your application with literally no data proofs, if you are accompanied by an agent. For the few people like me, who believe in getting work done on own, they would make you come for days even if your application has all the data proofs possible in this world.

  • @scorpiogenius he sure does. Hats off of to him.

    @anoop Agree that Mando has a good point here and it’s the fact as we know it. However things look better and that’s what I wanted to highlight in the post.

  • Hi Abesh,

    Good to hear about your experience.
    Well it gives two insights. The good one – Our government is becoming tech savvy and the fact that the top management looked at a simple issue like this too.

    The bad one – government offices are still stuck with the old process of working only when you have a push/approach. The only reason the government officials treated you well was because of the letter from Dr. Tharoor’s office.

    Whereas, it is the need of the hour to make the processes efficient enough to work on their own and not require push/approach.

    I myself faced a lot of problems in the passport office in New Delhi. The officials sitting there would approve your application with literally no data proofs, if you are accompanied by an agent. For the few people like me, who believe in getting work done on own, they would make you come for days even if your application has all the data proofs possible in this world.

  • @scorpiogenius he sure does. Hats off of to him.

    @anoop Agree that Mando has a good point here and it’s the fact as we know it. However things look better and that’s what I wanted to highlight in the post.

  • Have to agree with mando’s comment. This incident isn’t very different from the “..do you know who I am?” culture that has been the norm for ages. Your requirement should’ve be a fairly common one and there should’ve been a painless process (preferably e-nabled) in place. Instead you’ve had to waste precious time making contact with multiple agencies, none of whom showed any interest till a top government official got involved. Positive in terms of the response from Dr Tharoor’s office but quite deflating for those who aren’t on first-person terms with those in the top echelons.

  • Have to agree with mando’s comment. This incident isn’t very different from the “..do you know who I am?” culture that has been the norm for ages. Your requirement should’ve be a fairly common one and there should’ve been a painless process (preferably e-nabled) in place. Instead you’ve had to waste precious time making contact with multiple agencies, none of whom showed any interest till a top government official got involved. Positive in terms of the response from Dr Tharoor’s office but quite deflating for those who aren’t on first-person terms with those in the top echelons.

  • Nice one Abesh, and happy to read about this.

    This is one reason why Dr. Tharoor remains a hope for the youth of this nation, his ability and way of doing things in a different way 🙂

  • Nice one Abesh, and happy to read about this.

    This is one reason why Dr. Tharoor remains a hope for the youth of this nation, his ability and way of doing things in a different way 🙂

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  • Mando,
    Agree on most counts. But the point here is how many of the top management is accessible and even willing to take up minor issues. The “chalta hai” attitude is the norm in mostly all the government offices I have visited.

    And LOL ! I landed up at lunchtime and caused Mr Maitra to miss his lunch (he had to sign the apostille stamp and I was in a hurry). We spent that time having a convo 🙂

  • Mando,
    Agree on most counts. But the point here is how many of the top management is accessible and even willing to take up minor issues. The “chalta hai” attitude is the norm in mostly all the government offices I have visited.

    And LOL ! I landed up at lunchtime and caused Mr Maitra to miss his lunch (he had to sign the apostille stamp and I was in a hurry). We spent that time having a convo 🙂

  • Mando

    If every request needs to be routed through the top honcho in the organization before anyone does any useful work on it, then the organization is very very badly managed. The indication of a good organization is never the top management (they are usually pretty good anyway) but the middle management – and the middle management usually sucks. The MEA, like most ‘baniya-type’ Indian private organizations, seems to work in this way. Not a good sign 🙁

    And why did Mr. Maitra spend an hour chatting? No offense to his conversational skills, but it’s no wonder there isn’t any work getting done…

  • Mando

    If every request needs to be routed through the top honcho in the organization before anyone does any useful work on it, then the organization is very very badly managed. The indication of a good organization is never the top management (they are usually pretty good anyway) but the middle management – and the middle management usually sucks. The MEA, like most ‘baniya-type’ Indian private organizations, seems to work in this way. Not a good sign 🙁

    And why did Mr. Maitra spend an hour chatting? No offense to his conversational skills, but it’s no wonder there isn’t any work getting done…