Indians paying for free visa
If an Indian citizen with a valid passport is willing to pay 1,800-2,000 rupees, he or she can get a Bangladeshi visa for a month sitting at home.
The person doesn't even have to fill out a visa application form online or make any effort to go to a Bangladesh mission to submit a printed copy of the filled-in form.
The cost, however, will go up if the person wants a visa for a longer period.
And the ones offering “the hassle-free visa service" are some middlemen who loiter around the Bangladeshi missions in Delhi and Kolkata.
All this was revealed by a recent report of the Bangladesh home ministry.
“A section of employees at the two missions benefits from this malpractice. That is why they allow these middlemen into the missions and oppose outsourcing of the visa service,” a home ministry official having knowledge about the matter told this newspaper.
A high-profile team of the ministry prepared the report after visiting Bangladesh High Commission in Delhi and the Deputy High Commission in Kolkata in November last year.
According to the rules, every applicant has to appear before a Bangladesh mission with a printed copy of the filled-in online application form for getting a visa free of cost.
"In many cases, applicants try to get visas without appearing at mission offices and that is where the middlemen step in," said the report.
The three-member team found that without appearing at the Kolkata mission, an Indian citizen got a one-year multiple business visa by paying a middleman 15,000 rupees. Moreover, there were no signatures on the receipt copies of a number of visa applications submitted to the two missions in Delhi and Kolkata.
During an enquiry, the team also got information about the illegal practice from staffers of photocopy shops and tea stalls near the Kolkata mission.
The report said the Kolkata mission issued 85,071 Machine Readable Visas (MRVs) between January and November last year, meaning 8,507 visas were given to visa seekers every working day. But during its inspection, the team found that the number of visa seekers at the mission office was much lower than the number of visa issued.
People submitting visa forms at the Kolkata mission face problems for a lack of basic facilities such as toilets, drinking water and waiting rooms, and this tarnishes Bangladesh's image, it mentioned.
During its visit to the Kolkata mission on November 7, the team saw some visa seekers roaming around though the mission's visa counter was closed on that day due to malfunctioning of the central database.
Yet, a total of 159 visa applications were logged on that particular day, and 126 visas were issued. The following day, a total of 423 applications were logged in and 168 visas were issued, according to the Directorate of Immigration and Passport of Bangladesh.
In its report, the team recommended outsourcing the visa issuance process to make it easier and hassle-free.
Contacted, Salahuddin Noman Chowdhury, director general (administration) of the foreign ministry, declined to comment on the matter.
Asked about the alleged irregularities at the Kolkata mission, Deputy High Commissioner Toufique Hasan said he was not aware of it.
Bangladeshi citizens do not need to pay while applying for Indian visas. But they have to pay Tk 600 as processing fee per application. The money goes to the outsourcing firm that processes visas.
ROW OVER OUTSOURCING
On September 16, 2013, Bangladesh High Commission in New Delhi recommended outsourcing the MRV service for removing hassles.
In a letter to the foreign ministry, the Delhi mission wrote, “The mission would request the headquarters to immediately outsource the visa service to a company selected by the competent authority of the government of Bangladesh so that the Machine Readable Visa (MRV) can be introduced and run smoothly by this mission.”
Later, the cabinet committee on purchase on November 4, 2015, suggested giving the task of issuing six lakh MRVs in three years to the Consortium of BLS International Services Ltd and Dohatech New Media against a processing fee of $3.98 for each visa. The prime minister approved it on November 13, 2015.
The home ministry asked the Directorate of Immigration and Passport on December 7 that year to implement the purchase committee's suggestion.
But the foreign ministry on January 10 last year advised against going for outsourcing, citing reservations from the Bangladesh mission in Delhi. The ministry requested the Directorate of Immigration and Passport to reconsider the decision.
At a meeting with the home ministry team on November 8, officials of the Deputy High Commission in Kolkata conveyed to the team the Delhi mission's objection that outsourcing might hamper the security of the missions.
However, the team in its report suggested outsourcing for issuing MRVs, citing that the Indian High Commission in Dhaka already outsourced the task of issuing Indian visas.
Row between home and foreign ministries over the visa issue is not new.
The foreign ministry owes the home ministry Tk 3,786 crore that Bangladesh missions collected as passport and visa processing fees. The dues have accumulated over 16 years, and the home ministry has asked the finance ministry to make the foreign ministry pay up.
Moreover, the home ministry learnt that some Bangladeshi missions were renewing machine readable passports (MRP) by hand for $200 each in violation of the passport issuance policy that says MRPs could only be reissued, not renewed.
The home ministry does not have a clue where the money taken for “the renewal” went. It recently sent a “working paper” to the finance secretary for holding a meeting with the foreign ministry to settle the dispute.
The Daily Star ran a report on the issue on June 18 last year.