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Indian group files petition against consular fee hike

Riyadh-based Federation of Kerala Associations in Saudi Arabia (FOKASA) filed a petition in India yesterday against the 250 percent increase in the consular fees for Non-Resident Indians (NRIs) in the Kingdom. The new fee hike became effective on Oct. 1.
R. Muraleedharan, president of the federation, said that earlier his organization had opposed the hike and urged the Indian government to immediately withdraw its decision. The government paid no heed to the petition and so FOKASA decided to take a legal redress.
For a 36-page passport of 10-year validity, the all-inclusive fee in India was 1,000 Indian rupees (equivalent to SR 72). The new fee is SR 282, which means an NRI from Saudi Arabia must pay an increased cost of almost 400 percent to renew his passport in Saudi Arabia.
The passport renewal fees are yet higher for passports containing 60 pages, with a cost of SR 376, and SR 939 when issued through the “tatkal” service.
Such applicants have to pay an additional fee of SR 15 for the outsourcing agency and another SR 8 for the Indian Community Welfare Fund.
The current fee structure became effective in July 1993, subsequent to the passing of Passport (Amendment) Act of 1992, which allowed the government to fix the fee on the basis of actual cost incurred on issuing a passport. In 1993, the passport fee was Rs 300 and it was revised in 2002 to Rs 1,000.
However, the government asserts that over the last 10 years, costs have escalated for capital expenditures, procurement of equipment, reimbursement to police authorities, postal payments, passport printings, personalization costs, IT expenses and contractual payment service to many service providers. The rise in costs required increased fees, according to the Indian government.
During the last few years, the ministry had been engaged in reforms in delivery of passport services as envisioned under Passport Seva Project. Under the project, the ministry had set up 77 Passport Seva Kendras, the Indian government release added.
Muraleedharan told Arab News yesterday that the petition was to quash the notification issued by the Ministry of External Affairs on Sept. 30, which had increased the Passport and Travel Documents fee by 140 to 250 percent for NRIs in all the Indian missions abroad, particularly in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.
The petition also sought to stay the implementation of the notification pending disposal of the writ petition. The petition will be taken up for hearing on Monday. Senior Advocate K. Ramkumar would support the writ filed on behalf of FOKASA. Other attorneys appearing on behalf of petitioners include Advocates M. Sreekumar and A. Abdulkharim.
The petitioners were Rafi Pangodu,K.P. Harikrishnan and Siddique Nilambur, office-bearers of FOKASA.
The respondents included Union of India, represented by the Secretary of the Ministry of External Affairs and the Embassy of India, Riyadh, represented by its ambassador.
“With the new fees, an ordinary contract worker in Saudi Arabia has to pay almost one month’s salary for the passport alone. The average salary of a laborer is SR 350 per month,” Muraleedharan explained.
The statement of the Ministry of External Affairs, justifying the reasons for the fee increase are unacceptable, he said “Since the blank passports are printed in India, the ministry only has to bear the cost of transporting the passports from Delhi to Saudi Arabia. We request the Ministry of External Affairs to unify all passport related fees.”

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