Applicants and their family members in Dhaka and different parts of Bangladesh are crowding the Agargaon headquarters of the Department of Immigrations and Passport in the capital every day due to delay in delivery of their passports.
Officials said that nearly three lakh passport booklets were pending for printing.
The immigrations and passport department officials said the crisis in poor delivery was due to the fact that three decade-old passport printing machines were often acting up while the German company Veridos GmbH, hired to produce e-passports for Bangladesh nationals by December 2018, was yet to begin operation.
Officials said there were some issues to be solved between the department and Veridos GmbH and two of them involved disbursal of payment and meeting some specifications regarding the quality of the booklets.
The applicants, meanwhile, were going through an ordeal as they were being made to wait for days in their respective regional offices where they had applied. The delay also prompted most of them to move to Agargaong headquarters to expedite their passports delivery.
The family members of patients or expatriate Bangladeshis were facing a challenge and many were seen waiting at the office until evening.
Naznin Begum of Faridpur was seen waiting on the footpath near the passport printing press at the headquarters at 5:30pm on Tuesday.
She told New Age that her son Nazmul Hasan was now in a critical condition in Faridpur with multiple fractures and physicians suggested that her son should be taken abroad for treatment.
Naznin said she was supposed to get the passports delivered on October 8 as per the receipt generated by the system.
‘After the date was over, I went to the regional passport office in Faridpur a number of times but the officials told me to go to Dhaka if we could exert some influence to enbsure delivery,’ said Naznin, who is in her 50s.
Until 7:30pm, she was waiting at the passport delivery centre with the hope that she might get the passports tonight.
Like Naznin, Nayeem Pramanik of Naogaon was seen tensed while waiting for his father Dulal Hossain Pramanik, a cancer patient.
He came from Naogaon as the passports were scheduled to be delivered on October 13. Nayeem said they were waiting to take his father to Kolkata where treatment cost was low.
Qatar expatriate Lokus Miah said he came to Dhaka from Moulvibazar as he was not getting his passport for which the delivery date was set for September 12 following his application for renewal on August 22.
‘I am enjoying my leave in Bangladesh and supposed to return on October 31, but I am yet to get my reissued passport,’ said Lokus in a nervous voice.
According to the citizen charter at the Department of Immigrations and Passport, applicants are supposed to get passport within 21 days with normal payment while within 11 days for express delivery, for which there was a sizable fee.
After hours spent in the immigrations and passport headquarters on Tuesday, none of the senior officials disclosed the number of pending passports.
At 5:30pm, a senior official told New Age that, as of Tuesday, about three lakh applications were pending for printing.
‘The delivery situation in Dhaka is better than in places outside Dhaka and in Bangladesh missions abroad,’ said the mid-ranking official seeking anonymity.
The director general of the department, Major General Shakil Ahmed, held a meeting with the representatives of the German company Veridos GmbH on Tuesday to follow up on the progress over the introduction of e-passport.
The department chief admitted that many applicants were not getting their passports on time and he asked all the regional offices to prioritise patients and persons whose visa would expire soon.
He could not ascertain how many booklets were pending for printing.
Selina Banu, additional director general (passport, visa and immigration), declined to make any comment on the delay in printing passports and number of pending applications.
Asked about three lakh pending passports, ATM Abu Asad, the additional director general (human resource management and finance), however, did not directly reject the number but said, ‘If any of our offices sends their applications immediately following enrolment, what can we do? However, we are trying to deliver the passports despite the challenges.’
The crisis, the officials said, aggravated on Tuesday when one of the three decade-old printing machines met with technical glitches. ‘We are working to solve it,’ said a senior official.
One of the directors at the headquarters said the passport delivery crisis deepened as the German company failed to start its operation.
‘We could neither bring new machinery for machine readable passport nor could we start delivering new e-passport timely, triggering the crisis and we are not sure when it will be solved,’ said the official.
The official said the foreign company was still undecided whether to begin operation or not as in recent past there was a problem with the payment, besides issues pertaining to the fulfilment of specification of booklets.
In July 2018, the government has finalised a Tk 3,600 crore deal with German company Veridos GmbH to introduce e-passports for Bangladesh nationals by December 2018.
Veridos GmbH local consultant AK Faiyazul Huq Raju, however, claimed they would start delivering e-passport by ‘December’.
In mid of September 2017, the department announced that they were set to introduce e-passports by January or February 2018.
With the modern features, e-passport will have a validity of both five and 10 years.