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January 11, 2000
Do a khancha and get a passport
Jake Khan in Bombay
In Bombay obtaining 'genuine passports' on fake documents for whoever is willing to pay the right price is no problem. The hijackers of Flight 814 availed of this avenue thanks to the rampant khancha ('setting') system in the city, the crime branch of the Bombay police discovered last week.
A predetermined arrangement with the government officials, including cops, to co-operate in illegal acts in return for monetary benefits is commonly known as khancha in Bombay. The cops are baffled at the disclosure that vital documents like passports were issued so easily to the Pakistani nationals and Inter-Services Intelligence agents in the city. It is near impossible to ferret out these elements when they have this camouflage of bonafide citizens.
Following the admission of such practices by the owner of Seven Travels at Bombay Central, Suresh Bhatnathe, the city police had launched a massive crackdown to flush out ISI operatives who have obtained passports through the travel agency and other middlemen. ''We found that Seven Travels alone had issued over 1,200 passports and we are yet to verify each and every person,'' said the Deputy Commissioner of Police, Detection, Sunil Paraskar.
The verification is going to be a tedious procedure as it involves the screening of each and every application from the passport office, tracing the applicants and checking out their antecedents, the crime branch officer said. Apart from Seven Travels, the Bombay police is also planning to probe some fly-by-night operators in the city. Until last year, criminals and sundry others used to obtain passports through the small towns of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar as it was easy to bribe the officials there. But the hijackers and the Kashmiri militants managed to obtain passports from Bombay itself, which has alarmed the cops.
Although, the crime branch officials insist that the passports were issued from the city, the chief passport officer, H H Yakarnell denied that the Bombay passport office issued them. ''The names of four persons which the crime branch had given to us had applied for passports. But we did not issue passports to them,'' he said.
In Bombay it is very easy to get a passport. The basic documents needed for a passport is a birth certificate and a ration card. In the absence of a birth certificate, a school leaving certificate is regarded as sufficient and even a voter's identity card is considered enough in many cases. ''Any Indian having these documents is entitled for a passport,'' Yakernell said. After the application is made, the passport office passes on the matter to the Special Branch-II (the intelligence wing of the city police) of the for verifying the antecedents of the applicant and in case there are no problems the passports are forwarded to the applicants by post.
The modus operandi of the travel agents is quite simple. What they do is to enclose fake birth certificates or school leaving certificates along with the applications. This completes step one. The passport office then forwards the application to the Special Branch-II, who in turn refer the application to the local police station for checking out if the applicant has a police record and whether he lives at the address given in the application.
The travel agents who have khanchas in SB-II are aware when a particular application will land up there. So when the request is forwarded to the local police station, they grease some palms and the cops are more than ready to bend the rules. They give a clear signal to SB-II who give a go-ahead to the passport office. The postal delivery is the last stage. That too is overcome by a khancha with the concerned postman by paying him Rs 50 or 100.
The SevenTravels owner Suresh Bhatnathe and two of his employees Prakash Jadhav and Vishnu Yeram had arranged fake Indian passports to the four Harkat-ul-Ansar militants who were arrested in Jogeshwari on December 30. The arrest of the four had proved vital in identifying the five hijackers.
Union Home minister L K Advani has said that investigators now suspect that Seven Travels could have helped the hijackers -- Sunny Ahmed Kazi, Shahid Aktar Sayed and Mistry Zahur Ibrahim -- obtain passports with fake documents. During the raid on the travel agency on Friday, police had also seized 10 passports from the Belassis Street post office which were yet to be delivered to the applicants via khancha.
Apart from which 21 bogus ration cards, 51 blank passport forms, 50 blank school leaving certificates and a fake marriage certificate, other incriminating documents were also seized. The police also seized a register from the travel agent which indicates that a large number of passports were secured with the connivance of passport officers.
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