Adventures with Forms — Episode 1

A Permanent Account Number (PAN) card is mandatory for a majority of financial transactions in India such as opening a bank account, receiving taxable salary, sale or purchase of assets etc. There are currently two ways of obtaining a PAN card :

  • A paper application
  • An online application

The world has spent the last 20 or so years trying to move from paper forms to online applications (albeit somewhat unsuccessfully and rather slowly), and the benefits of the latter are well understood, so I don’t think the fact that online applications are a better idea needs much explanation.

But let’s examine the online application process. How would one go about applying for a PAN Card online? One (and arguably the only) natural way to begin is by typing “PAN Card Application India” into Google. Here’s what it looks like :

Pop Quiz : How does Google fund its moonshots?

Why the screenshot from a mobile phone? Because it’s 2015 and search happens on mobile now, as does most other internet activity. If I want to find out how to get a PAN card, I’m not going to power up a computer (assuming I own one), wait for it to boot, then log in, then wait for it to connect to the internet, then open up a browser and then search. I’m going to unlock my phone and search directly from the home screen in 5 seconds or fewer.

Before I can find what I’m looking for though, I’m forced to scroll through a screenful of ads. The average smartphone user may not even realize that these are ads. Nevertheless, I scroll down, find the right link, to the “official” page, and click on it to find this :

Pop Quiz 2 : Why buttons, when links would have served the purpose adequately?

Six microscopic buttons and three screenfuls of text in a font smaller than that in the status bar. There’s enough text on the page to put you to sleep. Twice. In 5 seconds, I’ve decided that I’m not going to read any of it. Fortunately though, the most important bit of information is stated right at the top of the page :

“One single character initial is allowed in the middle name field in PAN application for individual category.”

Armed with this wisdom, I decide to move along. After zooming in and figuring out the right button to click on (New Pan for Indian Citizens), I’m taken to a page with 3 more links, two which lead to pages containing more “important information”. In fact, the information on the third page is SO important that they decided to put each word on a separate line. See for yourself :

Pop Quiz 3 : What CSS do yo need to achieve the layout demonstrated in the third image?

The second image is of a page that lists “Do’s and Don’ts” including

“Do fill the application in block letters in English and preferably with black ink”

and

“Do paste a recent colour photograph (size 3.5 cm X 2.5 cm).”

Picture someone innocently pasting a passport-size photograph on their smartphone screen after reading these instructions and submitting the form only to realize that technology hasn’t quite come as far along as they imagined.

A little shaken, but determined to go on, I click on the link that reads “Online Application for New PAN (Form 49A)”, and here’s what I get :

And you thought they were done giving you instructions?

Three more screenfuls of information, with helpful instructions like

“An applicant will fill Form 49A online and submit the form.”

and

“The applicant will use the mouse to move the pointer to a desired input box, then click to select said field, and subsequently press appropriate keys on the keyboard to provide the information requested in the field.”

Okay, I made the second one up, but the first one is real, and clearly the two instructions, one fake and one real, are in the same ballpark… called “obvious”. But wait, it gets better! At the bottom of the page, there are two more links! One reads

“Click here for detailed Instructions for filling form49A.”

and the other reads

“Click here for detailed Instructions for documents to be submitted.”

Wow! More detailed instructions! I cannot believe my luck. I’m starting to think this is all a big joke. I’ve lost all hope that I will ever see the form that I’m supposed to fill. I won’t even bother to click on these links this time.

I need a PAN card, so I must go on. After some more zooming and panning, I find two microscopic drop-downs, one of which promises to take me to the form (something I’m highly doubtful it will do). I’m once again asked to choose the category of the application, something I’d already selected on the first page. I choose the right category (Individual), click ‘Submit’, and I’m finally taken to the form I need to fill.

(to be continued)

Founder, Jovian

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