Passport to chaos!
While officials of the Department of Immigration and Emigration defend the move of the department to Borella, people complain that it has created nothing but traffic congestion
By Ayesha Inoon
Horns blare and tyres screech as drivers try to manoeuvre their vehicles through the massive traffic jam. The scene is one of complete chaos in front of the new offices of the Department of Immigration and Emigration on Ananda Rajakaruna Mawatha, Borella. The long queue in front of the Department stretches out onto the pavement, adding to the confusion.

Ananda Rajakaruna Mawatha is a narrow road in the commercial hub of Punchi Borella. Close to several residential areas, it is also a connecting point to many schools such as Asoka Vidyalaya, Ananda College and Gothami Vidyalaya. Nearby are the General Hospital and Eye Hospital. Ambulances use this road and a traffic jam could mean the difference between life and death.

So was shifting the offices of the Department of Immigration and Emigration - with the crowds of people that visit it every day- from Station Road, Bambalapitiya -to this busy area a good move?

“Schoolchildren are especially affected by this,” says the owner of a grocery store on the road. “This road leads to so many schools and this morning, school vans were still stuck here past the time that school opens. It is a hassle for everyone.”

“This is not a road that usually has this much traffic,” says Kuraisha, a mango vendor. “Just this morning there were three accidents- not that people were hurt, but the vehicles were damaged.”

However the Controller, Department of Immigration and Emigration,. P.B. Abeykoon, is positive that the problem is only temporary. They had already discussed the dilemma with the Traffic Police before the move took place, and were also holding meetings during the week. “The reason we moved here was to give better facilities to the public,” he says, adding that the amenities in the new building are far better than at the previous location.

The decision to shift the Department from its location in close proximity to the sea was made shortly after the 2004 tsunami. The old building was in a dilapidated condition-roofs leaking, toilets in need of repair and no lifts, Mr. Abeykoon says. The new building, which is almost twice as large as the previous one, has two lifts and is shortly to be installed with central air conditioning in addition to other conveniences.But a disgruntled visitor to the department, Bernard Edirisinghe, feels that the move has no benefits. He says, “They have no proper places for documentation or seating facilities. The commotion is terrible. They must have good reasons for moving- but it is only half done.”

Mr Abeykoon says that the congestion at the Department, which has approximately 3,000 visitors a day, can be reduced if people go to one of the 340 Divisional Secretariats rather than come to the Head Office. “When people decide to go abroad they need a plan. The first thing is obtaining their passport.” He adds that the money, time and effort spent can be greatly reduced if people went to the Divisional Secretariat, which would enable them to receive their passports within ten working days.

The Department also plans to open Divisional Sub-Offices in Vavuniya, Kandy and Galle and issue application forms through places of worship such as temples, churches and mosques, while extending the list of people who can attest the form to Grama Sevaka officers, school principals and clergy.
By making the public aware that they do not need to come to the Head Office to get their passport, the Controller feels that the whole process will become more efficient. He is also confident that the traffic problem will be resolved as both the Traffic Police and department officials are working towards a solution.

The traffic will ease
Senior Superintendent of Colombo Traffic Police, Y.G.R.M. Laffir says that steps have already been taken to ease the traffic problems at the Passport office. The bus halt near Ananda Rajakaruna Mawatha has been shifted towards Dharmarama Mawatha. The entrance and exit gates to the car park on the road opposite the department have also been changed to the main road _ the Borella- Maradana Road.

They also hope to increase the timing of the traffic light signals for vehicles coming from Ananda Rajakaruna Mawatha.

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