‘Stricter checks needed for issuance of Indian passports’August 1st, 2008 - 9:01 am ICT by IANS
By Aroonim Bhuyan
Dubai, Aug 1 (IANS) A casual approach in the issuance of passports by authorities in certain south Indian states, particularly Kerala, poses a security threat to India, according to India’s Ambassador to the United Arab Emirates (UAE) Talmiz Ahmad. “There is a certain accommodativeness in issuing passports (by the authorities) in some south Indian states like Kerala, Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh - particularly Kerala, which helps people get hold of fraudulent passports,” Ahmad told IANS.
“This can pose a big security threat to India,” he added.
His comments come in the wake of a series of bombings in two Indian cities - Ahmedabad and Bangalore - in which over 50 people were killed and the recovery of a huge number of bombs in Surat.
Elaborating, he said: “Basically, there are two problems to this - the passport itself can be a forged document, or a person can procure an original passport (from the passport office) by producing fake documents. In other words, the passport may be original but the contents within might all be fake.”
The ambassador said there were many instances of people, particularly in Kerala, holding forged passports or original passports with fake contents or multiple passports.
“This practice has been going on for the last 15 years or so because of people searching for employment abroad,” he said.
Stressing on the need for stricter security checks and deterrants before issuing passports, Ahmad said: “Security should be uniform all over the country. You cannot have a tight security system in Kashmir and a loose one in Kerala. Our enemies will always look for the weak link.”
According to reports, Minister for Overseas Indian Affairs Vayalar Ravi has called for tightening of the police verification process in Kerala to weed out the use of fraudulent passports.
Five Indians were caught at Kozhikode airport in Kerala last week after they travelled from the emirate of Ras Al Khaimah in the UAE on fake passports.
When contacted, Regional Passport Officer in Kochi G. Raveendran said his office does the required verification of documents before issuing passports.
“We never knowingly issue passports based on fake documents. With whatever expertise we have, we do all verification of the documents,” Raveendran told IANS from Kochi.
Asked whether he was not aware of cases of people procuring passports by producing fake documents, he said: “We have noticed people coming with fake documents. Whenever we see such people we detain them.”
Giving an instance, he said some people try to apply for a passport under the Tatkal scheme with fake documents.
“If the people at the counter become suspicious of the documents, they refer the applicant along with the documents to me. Then the applicant vanishes from the counter itself,” he said.
Ambassador Ahmad, in the context of the large Indian population in the UAE, especially from Kerala, said that authorities in this Gulf nation have set up a very strict security system.
“UAE authorities are very concerned about security. They are very strict when it comes to security. The iris test they have put in place (at entry points to the country) has proved to be very effective,” Ahmad said.
“It is we in India who are very complacent. We need to have harsher penalties to deal with such people. In India, people found with fraudulent passports are let off with a fine of just Rs.5,000. We need to amend the laws,” he said.
K.V. Shamsudheen, chairman of the UAE-based Pravasi Bandhu Welfare Trust, said the problem of fraudulent passports is usually seem among people in the low-income category.
“The problem is not seen among businessmen or professionals. It is with the low-income group people who search for jobs abroad, particularly in the Gulf,” he said.
A vast majority of the expatriate Indian community in the Gulf work as labourers in the construction industry or as domestic workers.
According to Shamsudheen, people also apply for a fresh passport after producing an outpass they might have been given in a country which caught them staying illegally and then allowed them to leave.
“By showing the outpass, you can apply for a fresh passport in India,” he said.
“These people then try to reenter the countries which had sent them back with their new passports.”
However, with stricter systems in place, people would find it difficult to resort to this practice, he said.
“For example, in the UAE with the new iris test it can easily be found whether the person had been sent back from the country earlier,” Shamsudheen said.
He said the UAE authorities usually send back a person, on whom a life ban has been imposed from entering the country, back to the same airport from where he had come.
“There are reports of around 25 such cases every month (in which people have been sent back to Kerala from the UAE),” he said.
When contacted, K.D. Murali, president of the Abu Dhabi-based Kerala Social Centre, said his organization was aware of the problem.
“We have received information about such activities, particularly in the Kasargod district (of Kerala),” he said.
“Though as an organization we cannot take any official action, we are creating awareness among the people - like it is illegal and that it is harmful to the interests of the host country,” he added.