Explained | India headed for e-passports: Government plans ambitious expansion of digital network and passport offices

It will lead to faster delivery of passports and enable verification of applicants and quick tracing in case of emergency situations

What is the latest agreement between the Ministry of External Affairs and the Tata Consultancy Services about Indian passport?

The Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) on January 7 signed an agreement for the second phase of the Passport Seva Programme (PSP), one of the several Mission Mode Projects (MMPs) of the Government of India. It will facilitate the next phase of the PSP termed PSP-V2.0. The $1-billion agreement will focus on faster delivery of passports to the citizens and create a more effective integration between various wings of the government like the MEA and the local police network that can work in harmony for verification of applicants and quick tracing in case of emergency situations.

What is the feature of the new passport initiative programme?

The passport application and processing involves manual sections which are expected to go digital. The MEA said the PSP-V2.0 is a “continuation and enhancement” of PSP-V1.0. It said the aim is to create a digital platform that would be “transparent, more accessible and reliable” and that it would be backed by a trained workforce. This will create a state-of-the-art digital ecosystem, overhaul processes and integrate various wings of the government involved in issuance of passports. The issue of training of the employees is expected to take some time.

What will be the nature of the partnership with TCS?

The Tata Consultancy Services according to the MEA will ensure “support functions” like “citizen interface, technology backbone, call centres, training and change management”. The government will exercise “all sovereign and security related functions” in issuing passports. Strategic assets like data centres, data base and the application software will be owned by the government with access controlled through biometrics.

The programme also plans to have a Data Centre, Disaster Recovery Centre and Government Secure Repository which would be networked with all the Passport Seva Kendras and the Post Office Passport Seva Kendras (POPSK). The overall system would be connected to all the diplomatic missions abroad and will allow monitoring and supervision through state-of-art Network Operation Centre and Security Operation Centre (SOC). “The programme has recently been connected to more than 176 Indian Missions/Posts through Global Passport Seva Programme (GPSP), providing seamless delivery of passport services to Indian diaspora,” said the MEA.

The public-private partnership however requires to address shortage of government employees in the passport offices. The announcement highlighted that the government is gearing up for starting passport centres in every Lok Sabha constituency. But, according to the employees in the Passport division, there remain a large number of vacancies in these offices and full spectrum “monitoring and supervision” will require more staff members. For example, despite the government’s ambitious expansion programme, all the 36 offices are yet to have a Passport Officer.

What will be next gen features in the PSP-V2.0?

The new programme is expected to have technology upgrade including the use of the latest biometrics technology, Artificial Intelligence, Advance Data Analytics, Chat-Bot, auto-response, Natural Language Processing and Cloud Enablement. The newest feature will be the issuance of the new generation e-passports.

New and renewed passports will be fitted with a microchip that will hold all biometric information regarding the applicants. Sanjay Bhattacharyya, Secretary in MEA incharge of passport services, said in a social media message the next gen e-passports will ease immigration process across the world and will also increase digital safety for the holders.

How different will the new e-passports be from the current passports

Current passports are scanned at the immigration counters to reveal the travel record of the citizen using the same document and is also expected to perform the same function. However, the e-passport users will have physical storage of their biometric data in a chip which will reduce the risk of data leakage.

Is the public-private partnership without any shortcoming?

The MEA-TCS collaboration has been part of the passport process since 2010 and has helped in increasing digitisation of the complex process that requires multiple stakeholders across the spectrum of the vast government network. However, it is understood that more harmony between the two wings of public and private workers will help citizens apply and acquire passports without difficulties like delays and denials.

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