I travelled to Mumbai on January 25, 2012 from Singapore on Indigo Airways (6E52), which landed at 740 pm.
I am a New Zealand citizen on a sightseeing trip to Mumbai and Khandala by availing the ‘Tourist Visa on Arrival service (T-VOA) facility that has been widely publicised through the Indian diplomatic missions.
My experience was horrifying.
To begin with, the counter announcing the service was not manned.
On enquiry, a helpful staff member of the Foreign Regional Registration Office took me to a different section of the arrival hall, made me sit on a sofa and gave me a form to fill. The form, to be submitted at the counter next to the guest seating area, was also unmanned.
Once I filled up the form, I was taken beyond the usual custom clearance counters to the immigration office where I was asked to wait, while another employee started looking for an official to process my application.
I waited for half an hour.
A young employee eventually appeared, checked and rechecked every entry on my form several times, repeated questions about the exact purpose of my visit, my local address (which he verified) and went through the form again.
More than one hour had lapsed by then.
He appeared satisfied, took my papers to a senor officer in the same room.
The senior officer also asked the same questions, verified if the junior officer had crosschecked every detail and satisfied, called a woman officer on the upper floor who, apparently, did not like certain things.
She obtained her approval and I was sent to the banking counter to deposit money. Two hours had lapsed by then and the entire department seemed to be working on just my application at leisurely pace.
There was no one at the bank counter. A few shouts later, an employee appeared, took my money and issued a receipt. At each of these steps, I was made to wait for a long time, as the person next in the chain was not available.
Finally, a peon took the form and receipt to the woman officer upstairs and returned half an hour later with my passport. It was 930 pm and I was left wondering what could have happened if there were ten passengers on T-VOA.
It was a frustrating experience.
After clearing immigration and customs, on my way out, I told an official how such a process could cause a PR fiasco; more so because in comparison, even countries like Cambodia and Vietnam have better, more streamlined systems, with all processes completed at a single counter.
He demanded my passport back, photocopied it and bid me farewell.
The redeeming feature was a woman who was shadowing me throughout the process, reassuring, making me feel welcome and feeling sorry for the delays and inconvenience. When I cleared customs, she rushed to me, asked if everything was okay, and wished me a pleasant stay in Mumbai.
She was an Indigo airlines employee.
“I am not allowed to leave the premises until every passenger from our flights has cleared the customs,” she said.
That brought a lasting smile on my face. From then on, Mumbai became a memorable experience.
Rajesh Kumar is a medical journalist based in Auckland. The above is a slightly modified version of a letter that he sent to the Deputy Commissioner of Police, Mumbai and the Foreign Regional Registration Office, Mumbai.