As most parts of the world came to a halt amidst a raging pandemic, the little blue book which is the passport to travelling abroad for work, studying and leisure has not been in much demand.
The usual volume of applications for passport and related services that the Regional Passport Office (RPO), Bengaluru receives in a year is in lakhs. But in a pandemic-hit year, despite functioning through the months where most other sectors were closed, the number of applications and final services given has seen a sharp dip compared to the previous year.
According to data shared by the RPO, this year, from April to mid-October, 76,695 applications were received for various services, including issue of passport. Of these, 76,523 were granted. The final number of passports issued during this period was 88,139. Another, 3,135 Police Clearance Certificates (PCC) and 17 Surrender Certificates (SC) were also issued.
During the corresponding six-and-a-half months last year, 4,24,804 applications were received by the RPO, of which 4,30,087 were granted. As many as 4,34,700 passports, 12,899 PCCs and 55 SCs were issued.
With international air travel shut due to COVID-19, and with stringent lockdown in place, there was no need for passports. In fact, the RPO had to reduce the number of appointments by half after a directive from the Ministry of External Affairs in March just before the first lockdown was announced as a precautionary measure. The RPO recently restored the number of appointments to normal after adopting the necessary precautionary measures, but only half or less than half the appointments are being taken.
In the last few years, the RPO has received over seven lakh applications for issue of passport and related services. Months of low demand this year is expected to have a telling impact on the final numbers this calendar year.
Regional Passport Officer Bengaluru Bharath Kumar Kuthati told The Hindu, We cant say with certainty, but the fact is, there is a steady increase in the number of applications.
The RPO had mentioned that though the number of appointments taken has come down to around 50% from pre-COVID-19 times, it is still an increase in recent months from the 20% post the first lockdown to around 40% now. An overall fear of crowded places has also been cited as one of the reasons for applicants to stay away.