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Passport verification on sale!

Lokayukta names 6 officials,including IAS and IPS,in cash for passport verification scam.

Written by Johnson T A | Bangalore |
June 28, 2013 1:57:50 am

One of the senior-most serving Indian Police Service officer in Karnataka,a senior Indian Administrative Service officer who retired recently,and four senior officials of the Karnataka government have been named for prosecution in a “cash for passport verification certificate scam”,following an investigation by the state’s anti-corruption ombudsman,the Lokayukta.

The Lokayukta carried out the investigation on the basis of a complaint by the External Affairs Ministry’s Regional Passport Office in Bangalore of a large number of candidates seeking passports under the Tatkal scheme producing “verification certificates” from a common set of officials.

The Lokayukta inquiry report submitted to the state government last month has found evidence for prosecution of the six senior government officials under the Prevention of Corruption Act,1988,for receiving pecuniary benefits and also for criminal misconduct.

The Lokayukta inquiry has recommended proceedings under the Indian Penal Code for forgery; and under the Indian Passport Act,1967,for providing false information against the officials and 87 Tatkal passport applicants,who benefited from the certificates provided by these officials.

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The Director General of Police for training,Sushant Mahapatra,a 1979 batch IPS officer who is currently second in seniority only to the current state police chief,and R Suresh,a 1976 batch IAS officer who until recently served as principal secretary in department of Personnel and Administrative Reforms,are the two senior most officers named by the inquiry. The others named in the inquiry are two deputy secretaries in Legislative Affairs department B B Pathar and Dwarakanath Babu,joint secretary in legislative council Srinivas,and tahsildar Ramesh Babu.

The Lokayukta provided the details of the inquiry under an RTI request. A complaint was lodged with the Lokayukta on the basis of a referral made to the agency by Chief Secretary S V Ranganath earlier this year after he was approached by the regional passport officer.

“Indiscrepancies in issuing passport certificates were brought to our notice by the passport office and the matter has been referred for action,” Ranganath said.

“In the course of a periodic review of verification certificates produced along with Tatkal passport applications at the Bangalore RPO,officials found that an unusually large number of applicants had obtained certificates from the same set of government officials. The RPO brought this to the notice of the CS who referred it to the Lokayukta,” a senior government official said.

The verification certificate from a senior government official of the rank of joint secretary and above in the bureaucracy and IGP and above in the police service vouches for the antecedents of a passport applicant and usually states that the official personally knows the applicant for three years or more.

The verification certificate is mandatory for issuance of passports at short notice for people travelling on work or other requirements under an emergency situation. The certificate is usually a substitute for the police verification that is otherwise mandatory for a regular passport.

Government officials are usually wary of indiscriminate issuance of verification certificates for fear of some applicants having criminal antecedents.

However,with a large number of young workers from other parts of India working in the IT and other sectors in Bangalore and needing to travel abroad at short notice,the demand for verification certificates to obtain Tatkal passports has been on the rise in recent years.

In its complaint to the Lokayukta this year,the Bangalore RPO provided details of each of the passport applicant it suspected of producing fake verification certificates.

“During the course of the investigation the Lokayukta interviewed 87 Tatkal passport applicants and some passport agents,” the Lokayukta said in its reply to an RTI request for details of its investigations.

Many of the applicants have admitted paying money to touts for receiving their verification certificates and in most cases the applicants did not know the officials who issued their verification certificates. In some cases candidates paid up to Rs 10,000,which was split between middlemen and officials,sources in the Lokayukta police said.

The inquiry report has been forwarded to the state government for action by the police,but the government is yet to act on it.

“We are studying the report and will initiate disciplinary proceedings,” said an official of the DPAR who have been tasked with acting on the inquiry report.

“The Lokayukta has not recorded my statement in this matter. About a year ago I was asked about this by the government and a response was provided. The Lokayukta cannot decide on these things and does not have the power. I can only respond to the government or a law enforcement agency. Also,there is no limit on the number of verification certificates that can be issued,’’ said Sushant Mahapatra, Director General of Police for training.

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