Would you like some visa documents to go with your sandwich?

When you stop by at a roadside vendor to grab a quick bite, you probably scrutinise the quality of the ingredients, the cleanliness quotient etc. But have you ever paid attention to the wrapper that comes with the food? Arvind Sharma has. The results were startling on this particular occasion. The 37-year-old found his sandwich from a Santacruz (E) hawker enfolded in an original visa application document, with confidential information of the associate vice-president of a private bank. The covering letter from the bank was addressed to the Malaysian consulate.

Chew on that! (Left) Sandwich vendor Ram Avadh and Arvind Sharma with some of the documents Pic/Suresh KK

“I found a bunch of stapled papers with the vendor, which he was using to wrap the sandwiches. Out of sheer curiosity, I picked up the documents and was shocked to read the contents. The piece of paper he had used to envelop my sandwich was the bank statement of the official in question, with details like his address, bank account number, opening and closing balance, and information of deposits and withdrawals. Since I have been acquainted with the vendor, Ram Avadh, for years, I asked him the source of the bundle of papers, and he said he got it from a scrap dealer. He also allowed me to keep the documents,” Sharma told MiD DAY.

What a waste!
A few metres away from the sandwich vendor was a scrap dealer’s shop. MiD DAY spoke to the proprietor, Mohanlal Jain. “I check the content of the papers that come to us as raddi and in case I find something scribbled on them or utility bills, such papers are torn and kept aside. They are never jumbled with the bunch of papers that are sold to vendors,” he maintained. Speaking to MiD DAY, Ram Avadh, who usually starts his business post afternoon, admitted to handing over the documents to Sharma. “I buy these papers from a scrap trader in Shahunagar, Mahim, paying him Rs 16 per kilogram. I do not know anything about the contents of these documents as I am illiterate.”

Sharma handed over the rags to MiD DAY. Preliminary inquiries conducted by this newspaper revealed that the bank’s human resource department had issued the covering note on March 1, 2011 to the Malaysian consulate for issuing a visa from March 22 to April 1, 2011 for its associate VP.

Bitter facts
When we contacted the bank official in question, who had just returned from a trip to Thailand, he was utterly shocked. “It is unfortunate that consulates do not entertain visa applicants directly at their offices and larger travel agencies usually do not take up mere visa processing work. Hence, I remember approaching a local travel agent in Kalina, who was handed three sets of documents,” he said.

He added, “I am really astonished. I should have asked my travel agent to return my documents, which I did not. It was a mistake.” Meanwhile, Mumbai police spokesperson, DCP (crime) Nisar Tamboli said, “The responsibility rests on the institutions to whom the applicant had submitted the documents with trust and they should have ensured that they were kept in safe custody. Even if they had to dispose of them, they should have done it with utmost care and caution. The personal data, if fallen in wrong hands, can be misused by any anti-social or anti-national element for personal gains, causing problems to the applicant for no fault of his.”

The other side
Abdul Halim Haji Hashim, counsel for the visa section at the Malaysian consulate in Mumbai, said, “We are extremely sorry for the inconvenience caused to the applicant. We have not disposed of any visa documents directly. We have a shredder machine and have documents that have come to us in the last seven months lying here for disposal. If such an incident has happened, it might have occurred during the renovation of our visa office in Bandra. Unfortunately, we have not started computerised scanning of documents submitted by visa applicants to get rid of paperwork. We still do a lot of the tasks manually, and hence, have loads of documents in stock. But we can assure you that post the repair work, no outsider is allowed entry inside the office premises and policemen are on duty round the clock. I promise you that such incidents won’t happen in future.”

Food for thought
On November 28, last year, MiD DAY had reported how south Mumbai resident Dhiren Jhaveri discovered Airtel forms containing confidential information in the hands of a roadside food vendor, who acquired them from a scrap dealer.  

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