The last time I had passport business was more than five year back when I renewed my passport. That time, I had to visit Passport office (located then, off M. G. Road) in person, after taking an appointment online.
It was time to renew my wife's passport. I visited the Passport Seva portal to get the sordid details on how to go about doing this.
I was happy to see a downloadable form which could be filled and uploaded after registering at the site. This was an editable pdf (which even allowed data to be saved). The pdf did validation to ensure mandatory fields were filled and then generated an xml file to be uploaded.
I was quite impressed. Having filled the form, the next step was to become a registered user and upload the form.
Registering was easy and I could login. Imagine my surprise when each screen forced me to enter a captcha code. I can understand the need for capcha for unauthenticated access, but after logging in, imagine each subsequent screeing requesting for captcha? To add to the fun, the capcha image does not show up sometime and it needs a refresh to fix that.
The uploading of the saved xml file was easy after which I was required to make an appointment.
After having chosen a Passport Seva Kendra (PSK), I clicked on the button to create an appointment, only to see the message "Currently no appointment slots are available for the selected PSK. Please try scheduling an appointment from 05/06/2012, 6 pm onwards."
Imagine a PSK which has no appointment slots? Even Thirupathi temple is not that busy!
And what is the funda about 6 pm onwards? How will slots get created from 6 pm? One explanation that I can think of is, we can only get slots for the next day and this is open only from 6pm of the previous day. This was confirmed by the Advisory for Applicant link. But why not have the portal take appointments for subsequent days - is it such a difficult thing to program?
Now, I need to keep logging into this website at 6pm each evening, enter capchas for each screen and try getting an appointment. And I need to do this by 90 days failing which my uploaded application expires.
This is worse than Tatkal ticket booking in irctc.
To add insult to injury, I received an email from the site with my Registration details - and would you believe it, it had my password in cleartext. The website was storing cleartext password!
This is a clear no-no in any decent web application. To think that the site is maintained by an organization as reputed as Tata Consultancy Services? I wonder what kind of software architects they have. Alternately, what weird requirements does the passport office have to store cleartext passwords.
Update: 11th June 2012. I tried to book an appointment by logging in (or trying to) at 6 PM today. Needless to say, I had better luck with irctc. I could see all possible error messages getting displayed - Page not Found, Connect Timeout, Application Error... And when finally I did log in, the capcha gave a broken link (as I have mentioned above). By 6.09 PM, I got the dreaded message above - "Currently no appointment slots..."
I had submitted this write-up as a "Grievance" in their Online Feedback section. This was their auto-acknowledgement email.
Dear Raghuram Bharathan,
Your service request has been received on 05/06/2012 as per the following description:
Visit my blog http://maruhgar.blogspot.in/
For any further assistance in this regard, please quote the following reference ID :121XXX049 along with your Date of Birth.
Thanking you and assuring you of our best services at all times.
With best regards,
Passport Seva Helpdesk
Ironically today they closed my Service Request with the following message:
We regret to inform you that the Service Request having reference ID 12XXXX49, can not be
processed due to the following reasons:
No specified matter/grievance.
With best regards,
Passport Seva Helpdesk
Where do we go from here?
Update: 22nd June 2012: Times of India Bangalore edition has multiple articles on Passport woes today. Ah, the feeling of vindiction!
Update: 28 June 2012: Read about how we finally got an appointment and the travails thereafter here.