Ordinary people’s hassle in obtaining a passport in Nepal: A case in point

A crowd of people at the Department of Passport. Photo: Chandra Giri
A crowd of people at the Department of Passport. Photo: Chandra Giri

On March 30, 2021, my passport expired. As Covid was in full swing, and with restrictions all over the world, I did not find it necessary to renew it. But, recently, I needed to and I went through hell.

Things changed since the last time I made my passport. The process starts with making the national ID card. I filled up all the details online for the card, but I did not get a time or a date when I would get it. I tried again and again, but all my efforts were to no avail.

A few days later, I found out why. The dates were already booked by the cybercafes near the District Administration Office (DOA).

Disappointed, I stood in the queue at the DAO for hours to find out why. They told me to go to one of those cafes and fill out the online form if I wanted the card. 

There, I found how these cybercafes operated by middlemen were running a business by charging people a lot more than what was needed.

So I asked for my colleague Gaurav Pokharel’s help and went to the Department of National ID and Civil Registration located inside Singha Durbar, and got my national ID number. There, I also found that if you want a passport, all you needed was the ID number, not the ID itself. 

Frustrated and disappointed with the government’s poor management, I returned to my office.

Thus started the process to get my passport. As for the national ID card, I filled out an online form. I faced the same issue. I did not get an appointment date. I frequently tried, but I did not get a date. I even went through the website and information posted by the DAO and the Department of Passports but it did not have proper information regarding this.

I wanted to call the director-general of the Department of Passport, but his number was not on the website. The website did not even have the number of its spokesperson. Disappointed, I emailed them. 

Two weeks passed and none of them replied.

I could have contacted them as a journalist. But, I did not because I wanted to know what an ordinary citizen of the country would face.

I also thought maybe I should go to my own district to make the passport. I called a few friends in Dhading. But, everyone told me it was easier in Kathmandu and that I should go to a cyber cafe. A person did fix me an appointment in Kathmandu but for that, I had to pay a handsome amount.

Never-ending queues

Department of Passport
Lines are never-ending at the Department of Passport.

I feel the government likes to keep us in queues. Hospitals have queues, and so do banks and government offices. We waste our valuable time standing in queues everywhere. Sometimes I feel that we spend half our life in these queues. Why? There is only one reason. Leader’s who are not capable enough to lead get leadership roles. 

We have all heard about queues at the Department of Passport at Narayanhiti, haven’t we? People would stand in queues from midnight onwards. This trend did not stop even during Covid. The government thinks that things are improving, but with middlemen taking over, it is unlikely things will change for the better anytime soon.

Rude democracy

Nepal’s government officials being rude is a fact. It is not something I say. It is something everyone says. The officials at government offices do not listen to the general public. There are some officials who are nice, but the majority are rude and ill-disciplined.

Take this for an example. While in a queue, I met a young lad from Madhesh. The official in the passport office yelled at him after he did not understand the boy’s dialect.  This was disheartening to hear as a Nepali citizen who had come to seek government service was treated like a criminal.

This was the second time the boy had come to make his passport as he aimed to leave Nepal for foreign employment and the treatment of the government official frustrated him.

“They treat us like this in our own country. I don’t know what to expect there,” he said in his voice heavy and disappointed.

He is not the only one. There are hundreds like him, perhaps thousands, who face similar insults from the government officials. That reminded me of something I read about the Philippines. 

In the Philippines, the government has made it extremely simple for those interested to go for foreign employment. These people do not have to stay in the queue. The government trains the people and only then sends them abroad for work. The government uses the remittance that these people send and creates a better environment for others interested to go abroad for work. But, in our country, these youngsters are just pawns who are treated with the utmost disrespect. 

Citizen in exile

passport office
A person sleeps on the floor at the Department of Passport.

It is the election season in Nepal, but over five million young boys and girls will not vote. Due to poor governance, they have no choice but to leave for better opportunities. The same government then uses the money sent by these people for its pleasure. It is like the government has sent them into exile and is enjoying the benefits of it.

Remittance is a major contributor to the country’s economy. Sacrificing families, relationships and their young age, these people work tirelessly and help the country out. But, Nepal’s leaders have not understood this at all.

Missing voters

Foreign Minister Narayan Khadka handing over the first e-passport to Satya Mohan Joshi.
Foreign Minister Narayan Khadka handing over the first e-passport to Satya Mohan Joshi.

Behind me in the queue was a boy from Tanahun. I asked him if he was going to vote. He says it is unlikely as he is going abroad for work. He has not taken part in any elections.

I asked him why he was missing such a huge event in the country, to which he replied, “I’ve not been here in Dashain or Tihar. I don’t care about the elections.”

But, he was interested in politics.

“Over five million voters are abroad. They don’t have the right to vote. To hell with this democracy,” he said, adding he would miss Nepal during the elections.

I asked him his opinion on why the government did not allow them to vote.

“The leaders here are afraid that people who go abroad know what a good government is like and they fear that we will never vote for them,” he says. “But, sadly, even when we leave Nepal, we still support a particular party.”

I wanted to talk to him further to know how party politics had plagued the foreign employment market. But, after two hours of standing in the queue, it was my turn.

I paid Rs 20,000 to get the 64-page passport. Looking at my old passport, the official asked why my passport was full. I told him I did not want to waste time standing in the queue as I did over the past few days. 

All he could do was look at me and smile. He did not say a word.

My work was done. They told me I would get my passport after three days. I looked back at the people behind me who had become my friends. I left, but only with a heavy heart.

Before I left, I realised I had not asked what I needed to receive my passport. I wanted to go ask the official, but the line was too long so I asked a police officer who told me all I needed was a receipt. 

Two days later, I got a message. My passport was ready. I went to Tripureshwar to get my new passport. I stood in the queue again. After two and a half hours, I reached the counter. But, the person there told me I needed my citizenship certificate. I told him I did not have my citizenship but had other identification documents.

But, the guy rudely replied that I needed my citizenship certificate and asked me not to waste his time.

Disappointed, I left. The next day, with citizenship in hand, I went back, stayed in a two-and-a-half-hour queue and reached the counter where they told me that I also needed my old passport. No one told me that a day before. Such a piece of major information was not available anywhere. I am sure a lot of people must have faced this issue. This surely is carelessness or the government’s inability.

The government not only wasted my time but also my office’s time. I am sure I am not the only person to have faced this issue.

This piece was translated from the original Nepali version and edited for clarity and length.

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Khatiwada is the oped editor at Onlinekhabar.

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