Will CDC go the Passport way to reduce inordinate delay?
Getting a passport, a precious document for any citizen of our country who wishes to go abroad, used to be a cumbersome process until 2010, when the Union Government took a decision aimed at providing passport-related services speed, convenience and transparency.
Since then, the whole scenario of waiting for passport, sometime up to six months, has drastically come down to just a few days affair with more transparency.
While the function of granting and issuing passport remains with the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA), Tata Consultancy Services (TCS) has been roped in by the Government of India as its technology and operations partner in the mega project.
Just like MEA, which took the risk and brought a private player for infusing transparency in the process as well as for speedy delivery of passports, will the Directorate General of Shipping (DGS) utilize the services of such a private player to simplify the cumbersome process in issuing Continuous Discharge Certificates (CDC), regarded as Seafarers’ Identity Documents? It’s indeed a million dollar question which begs for an answer.
In the best interest of thousands of sea-going professionals, the DGS should take a firm step to outsource the issuance of CDC to a compatible private player (just like processing of Indian passports that is given to TCS) to scuttle undue delay, feels many a senior mariner in the fraternity.
Though about five lakhs passports and about a lakh CDCs (both fresh and sticker-renewal) on an average are being issued every year, the cumbersome process in issuing CDC eats away more waiting time for energetic seafarers than for a passport, which could be obtained in a week’s time.
While the country has over 110 locations for obtaining passport, only one point – the Office of the Shipping Master, Government Shipping Office (GSO), Mumbai, has been designated by the Government to cater to the CDC demands.
After Independence, the country, which had very few locations for issuing passports then, expanded its presence across the country due to the growing population. However, the same pace is missing in the expansion of Mercantile Marine Department (MMD) offices in proportion to the increased number of maritime educations since 1950s. Even after steady increase in the number of maritime institutions from a single digit to over 130 in the past six decades, MMD offices in the country are just 12.
What is CDC?
A Continuous Discharge Certificate or a Seaman Record Book is a continuous record of a seaman’s service. The document certifies that the person holding is a seaman as per the International Convention on Standards of Training, Certification and Watch keeping for Seafarers (STCW), 1978, as amended in 1995 and recently in 2010.
Major revisions to the STCW Convention and its associated Code (Manila Amendments) entered into force on Jan. 1, 2012, with a five-year transitional period until Jan. 1, 2017.
Every seafarer must carry this document while on board, which is also an official and legal record of his sea experience. The Master of the vessel and the shipping master sign the document each time a seaman is signed off from the vessel certifying his competency and character on board. This is one of the most important documents to be in possession of a seaman is while servicing on board and while appearing for CDC.
If a seaman signs off in a foreign port than he shall get the signature of embassy staff in place of shipping manager or else he shall get shipping master’s signature on arrival in India.
The 3 offices
Under the Merchant Shipping Act, 1958, the DG Shipping had set up three Shipping Masters Offices in Mumbai, Kolkata and Chennai and entrusted them with the task of the issuance of CDCs.
These three Shipping Masters have territories of the Indian coastal states equally divided among them by Mercantile Marine Departments (MMD) for better management and issuance of CDCs.
CDC until 2008
Until 2008, CDCs were issued by the three Shipping Masters – in Mumbai, Kolkata and Chennai. However, through a DGS order in March 2008, the work of receipt of applications and issuance of all CDCs, including that of replacement, renewal and duplicate CDCs, was centralized in the Office of the Shipping Master, Government Shipping Office (GSO), Mumbai, alone.
And ironically, it was around the same time, when the number of cadets seeking sea-borne jobs (coupled with pre-sea course completed cadets) started to increase tremendously. However, the DG Shipping, instead of decentralizing the whole system to reduce time delay and to introduce more transparency, decided to force all CDC seekers to rush to its Mumbai office, which used to be overcrowded even on any lean day.
The single point process for all CDCs actually played havoc with the lives of thousands of cadets, who are forced to squirm in the verandahs of GSO, Mumbai, for their identity certificates to secure onboard jobs.
According to details available, a new CDC has to be processed and given to the applicant within 90 days and for renewal (sticker) it is just 45 days.
However, the applicants are forced to wait for more than six months to get their CDCs on both the categories and the delay in receiving their identity document badly shatters their onboard job dreams.
Expressing anguish over the inordinate delay in issuing CDC by DGS, a cadet, seeking anonymity, told Sagar Sandesh that the time has come for the DG Shipping to take the bold step and follow in the foot-steps of Ministry of External Affairs (MEA), which took the unimaginable decision of outsourcing the processing of passports – regarded as the most secured document of any country- to a private party.
Ironically, outsourcing of the process by MEA has led to introduction of more transparency in the system and the undue delay in issuing passports has also come down drastically.
“If the same system is introduced by the DG Shipping in processing CDCs, it would ultimately reduce the unwarranted time delay and keep at bay touts,” he suggested. Is CDC more classified document than passport?
Besides, outsourcing would also speed up the process and it will ultimately help seafarers, who are waiting for months to get their CDCs, he further added.
In a latest order on May 8, 2013, the DG Shipping decentralized the issuance of the replacement, renewal and duplicate CDCs and tasked the offices of Shipping Master, Mumbai, Kolkata and Chennai to extend facilitatory services to seafarers.
The decision was taken in order to process CDC applications systematically in a streamlined manner within a minimum lead time, the Director-General of Shipping said in the circular.
According to the order, the work of receipt of application and issuance of new CDCs, of all individual category CDCs (excluding Higher National Diploma CDCs) where in the application for such CDCs have to be submitted by the seafarer himself, has been decentralized in the offices of the Shipping Masters — Mumbai, Kolkata and Chennai.
However, the work of receipt of application and issuance of the pre-sea training CDCs (major chunk) received from the various maritime training institutions (MTIs) would be continued to be received, processed and issued by the Shipping Master, GSO, Mumbai, only as per the said DGS 2008 directive, the latest circular said.
While the cadets feel that outsourcing of CDC would do the much-needed streamlining of the cumbersome process followed for obtaining the document at DG Shipping, a section of senior mariners told Sagar Sandesh that there are some practical difficulties in outsourcing it.
“In passport, after the initial process and verification of documents, there is nothing much to do a follow-up. But in the case of CDCs, the Shipping Master needs to verify all the supporting documents (including passport) presented by the cadets with the respective institutions and it is really a Herculean task. Only after verification, the Shipping Master would be able to sign the CDC. So, even after outsourcing the process, it will get delayed due to the time consumed while completing the verification process.”
“While issuing a fresh CDC would be an easy job under the outsourced scheme, renewal or issuing of duplicate CDCs could be more time consuming as the Shipping Masters need to accumulate and cross-verify the cadets’ onboard experiences with the respective agencies.”
However, if the process of entries/endorsements into a CDC of seafarer by a Captain of a vessel is made computerized (online basis), all those entries would get reflected in DG Shipping’s Master Server also, thus enabling the Shipping Master’s Office to conclude the renewal process in the shortest possible time, one of the senior mariners asserted.
Since the existing system of processing tend to consume more time, the DG Shipping should go in for outsourcing the processing of CDCs and implement 100 per cent computerization of records (all entries on each and every CDC) to assist the process to remain hassle-free.
If the DGS installs centralized data storage server, better E-services and connectivity with other centres to process the CDCs, it would drastically reduce the verification process and make them more efficient.
Since the DG Shipping cannot appoint more Shipping Masters, as it needs Parliament approval, he could very well opt for outsourcing the processing work of CDCs, which remains the major task.