Passport appointments back to normal
After having to reduce the number of appointments amidst a raging pandemic, the Regional Passport Office (RPO), Bengaluru recently restored the number of appointments to normal after adopting the necessary precautionary measures. But the surge in COVID-19 cases is keeping nearly half of them vacant.
As on Wednesday, the number of normal appointments available at the Lalbagh Passport Seva Kendra (PSK) was 1,200. Another 600 were available at the Marathahalli PSK, and 100 enquiry slots at the Koramangala office. In Hubballi-Dharwad and Mangaluru, 450 normal appointments were available.
Regional Passport Officer Bharath Kumar Kuthati told The Hindu that only half or less than half the appointments have been taken. “The number of appointments taken has come down to 40% from pre-COVID-19 times. But it has been steadily increasing – from 20% post the first lockdown to around 40% now. Air travel suspension and international travel restrictions were major factors, apart from a general trend of avoiding crowded places,” he said.
In March, just days before the first lockdown was announced, the Ministry of External Affairs sent out a directive to reduce appointments. The Bengaluru RPO had then announced a reduction in appointments by half, with officials requesting applicants to return home if they were suffering from symptoms or did not want the passport service as an emergency.
“Till a month ago, we had reduced appointments to 50% of the regular number at the PSKs. There were no operations at the Post Office PSKs (POPSKs). We were going by indication given by the Department of Posts. They expressed their readiness a month ago. Since then, we’ve started functioning. PSKs started operating earlier,” Mr. Kuthati explained.
Most POPSKs in the State are offering between 20 and 30 appointments.
“All our centres are following the Central guidelines scrupulously. Both at the PSKs and POPSKs as well as RPO, wearing of masks, use of sanitisers and maintaining social distancing are being implemented. Initially, we reduced appointments by 50%. But over a period of time, we observed that footfalls have not been more than 50%. So, we’ve opened 100% of all appointments. At POPSKs, we are offering appointments depending on the Department of Posts’ request. At the PSKs, we’re seeing if we need additional personnel. But that may not be necessary as of now,” the RPO added.