MADURAI: Are the private travel agencies in Madurai taking advantage of the glitches in the system to mint money? That's what a leaked telephone conversation that went viral on social media reveals.
In one of the leaked audio clips, the agent is heard telling the passenger that the agency would obtain e-pass for all the passengers, even for those who lack identity proof.
Sources said that once the passenger deposits Rs 2,000 as travel fare, the booking is confirmed. "The passengers are then picked up from MGR bus terminus at Mattuthavani or near High Court between 8.30 pm and 9 pm.
"The agencies transport people from Madurai to cities including Coimbatore, Chennai and Bangalore only during the night," they said.
The State e-pass system works at two levels. One, for industrial purposes and the other for emergency travel. The industrial pass is applicable for those who have a Udyog Aadhar certificate or GST number of an industry based in Madurai. The applicant shall opt any three of the six adjacent districts including Trichy, Sivaganga, Ramanathapuram, Theni, Virudhunagar and Dindigul for business operation. 'Business out-trip e-passes', which are valid for three days, are also provided for those who seek to go to other faraway districts including Coimbatore and Chennai for purchase of raw materials or service of machineries.
The emergency e-passes are given on conditions of medical emergencies, marriage ceremonies and death of blood relatives. While the application for medical emergencies mandates a doctor's certificate or an appointment letter, application for attending marriage requires the marriage invitation and the application to attend the funeral requires the death certificate or a letter from the respective Village Administrative Officer (VAO). This apart, the web portal also facilitates those who are stranded in other districts to apply for e-passes to get back to the home towns. The approval of these applications are under the jurisdiction of authorities of designated district, where the applicant intends to travel.
Rejection of applications
Speaking to The New Indian Express, Raj Kannan (name changed) from Madurai, who had earlier applied for e-pass to attend the funeral of his uncle in Coimbatore, said that his applications were rejected several times. "Even on usual days, it takes months to get a death certificate. Amidst the pandemic, if they mandate to attach death certificate to attend the funeral, it is practically impossible," he said.
The discontent over rejection of applications and lack of monitoring mechanism at departure districts to verify the documents of vehicles leaving the district had encouraged such rampant malpractices among private travel agencies, said an official on condition of anonymity who deals with scrutinising the passes.
"If the e-pass sticker is pasted on the vehicle, none of the transit districts or the district from which the vehicle departs would stop it for verification. Every district administration in the State only concentrates on verifying those entering the district. For instance, in early June, many from Chennai had left the State capital even without obtaining the e-passes. Had the officials in Chennai been vigilant on those leaving the district, there would have not been surge in cases in Madurai and other such districts," added the official.
However, Collector TG Vinay denied the allegations and said that the permit for e-pass is under the jurisdiction of the district receiving the vehicle. "The audioclips refer to the e-passes obtained from cities such as Coimbatore, Chennai and Bangalore. Every vehicle passing through the checkposts in Madurai are being entered after scrutiny of e-passes. If any of the vehicles were found to be using a bogus e-pass, they are being seized and stringent action are being taken," he added.
Speaking on the rejection of applications, official sources from district administration stated that at least 4,500 applications were being received seeking e-passes daily, of which, around 700 to 1,000 were only being approved.
"After four months of lockdown, not many would apply under 'return of stranded' category as they are sure to have a safe abode elsewhere. Unless they are stranded students or army personnel, who would only have less than a month of vacation, we don't permit anyone under the category," the sources said.
Besides, Madurai, being the medical hub for all southern districts, receive many applications for medical emergencies. In particular, those seeking chemotherapy and dialysis apply on a weekly basis. "Many attach prescriptions, scan reports and discharge summary, when they could not obtain a doctor's certificate or appointment letter. Barring the practical difficulties, we permit a few after careful consideration," they added.
Funeral has become a frequent reason in most of the applications. "Many, who are restless staying home for months, have even started attaching downloaded images of dead bodies, while seeking e-passes. This apart, many apply to attend the funeral ceremonies that happen on third or sixteenth day after death. Even if two applications from all the districts in Tamil Nadu are approved, it would add to the hundreds of local contacts of the family, leading to a large congregation. With surging Covid-19 cases, we could not afford to be liberal in approving all the applications," they added.