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Passport Seva Project:Expectations Go Up

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The Passport Seva project began as one of the 27 Mission Mode Projects listed in the NeGP. The e-governance project aims, to issue a new passport within three days and shorten queue time.

Software major TataConsultancy Services (TCS) recently signed a deal with the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA),Government of India, for the Passport Seva Project (PSP), the largest mission-critical E-governance project valued at over INR 1,000 crore. After implementation of the Project which will be managed end-to-end by TCS, the Ministry expects that the process of issuing a new passport will be completed in 3 working days while passports issued under the Tatkal scheme will be dispatched on the same day, subject to address and police verification of applicants.

The formal contract was signed between Foreign Secretary Shivshankar Menon and TCS Chief Executive Officer and Managing Director, S Ramadorai. The contract was signed almost three months after the ministry of external affairs had issued the letter of intent to TCS July 23, adjudging it the “best value bidder” for the project. The Passport Seva project began as one of the 27 Mission Mode Projects listed in the national e-Governance plan. The ambitious e-governance project aims, among other objectives, to issue a new passport within three days and shorten queue time.

The project will be implemented within a Buy-Own-Operate-Transfer or BOOT framework with pilot projects operation within 19 months. The countrywide roll-out of the Passport Seva Project will take place within six years and the Government will open 77 Passport Filing Centers across the country in a phased manner. TCS will have end-to-end responsibility of implementing this project.

Speaking on the occasion of signing of the contract, Shivshankar Menon, Foreign Secretary, Ministry of External Affairs said, “The Passport Seva Project, based on a public-private partnership model, aims to provide passport-related services to Indian citizens in a speedy, convenient and transparent manner. The sovereign and fiduciary function of granting and issuing passport remains with MEA and TCS will be our technology and operations partner in this project”

Mr. S Ramadorai, CEO and Managing Director, TCS said, “We believe that this mission mode project of nationalimportance will make delivery of passportservices truly world class in nature. This project reiterates TCS’ commitment to help government deliver citizen services more efficiently through technology and process improvements and will transform passport service delivery to the citizens of India. “Tanmoy Chakrabarty, Vice President, Global Government Business Group said: “After the successful implementation of the MCA-21 program, the Passport Seva Project will enable citizens to enjoy the benefits of a technology-led, service oriented approach to passports while ensuring that the proper security, safety and safeguards are maintained.

“The sovereign and fiduciary function of granting and issuing passport remains with MEA and TCS will be our technology and operations partner in this project”

Background

The cabinet had September last year approved the seven-point plan, which includes turning the current 36 regional passport offices into back-end offices and a private service provider setting up 77 facilitation offices.  The tender for the project was floated last October on the basis of a report by the Hyderabad-based National Institute for Smart Government- a non-profit organisation dedicated to spreading e-Governance in India. Eight companies submitted bids, which were opened this April. The techno-commercial evaluation of the bids then zeroed in on TCS as the “best value bidder”. In return for better services, the private service provider will charge a fee of about Rs 200 for each transaction. Within eight years, the number of passports issued has nearly tripled from 2.2 million in 2000 to six million in 2008.

The Passport Seva Project would digitize the entire passport services lifestyle and allow online filing of applications. Applicants also have the alternative option of filling the Intelligent Character Recognition (ICR)-enabled form which along with all relevant documents will be scanned and submitted at Passport Facilitation Centres (PFCs). The PFC will be the primary hubs that will support all activities like biometric capture, photograph, payment and verification and grant of passports in the presence of applicants for most cases. The Passports will be dispatched in three days in case no police verification or post-issue police verification is required based on passport issuance regulations. Complete tracking of process would be possible in the system. Police nodal offices will be facilitated by TCS personnel and the PP Forms will be downloaded there directly eliminating the logistic delay. A call centre would be established to help the applicants with information regarding passport procedures and the status of submitted requests. Grievances would be tracked and closed.

Rapid growth in passport demand propelled the need for this project.   This rapid growth is expected to accelerate further with India’s fast growing global engagement. Also, future growth is expected to be around  18% per annum with passport demand reaching over one crore by 2011.  Rapidly growing demand has put considerable strain on manpower and infrastructure leading to delays in issuance of passports and crowded conditions in Passport Offices. Passport Offices are fully computerized.  However, considerable scope exists to introduce latest Information Technology to improve issuance system.  There is a need to provide improved services to citizens such as Internet application, on-line real time tracking of status of applications, an effective enquiry and grievance redressal system, biometric passports, and digital photo capture, etc. Despite constraints, the Central Passport Organistion under the Ministry of External Affairs has managed to increase output and issued about 50 lakh passports in 2007 as against around 35 lakh in 2005.  Demand is growing fast. To cater to this phenomenal increase the need for public private partnership, which is increasingly being implemented by various government departments in India and has been adopted by the governments the world over, was felt.

This project reiterates TCS’ commitment to help government deliver citizen services more efficiently through technology and process improvements and will transform passport service delivery to the citizens of India.

Security

The proposed Passport Seva Project fully addresses all the possible security concerns not only relating to data security but also individual security. The entire system of Passport Seva will comply with the international standards of security namely ISO 27001, which takes care of all the security concerns and vulnerabilities on an end-to-end basis. This will eliminate leakage or modification of the data base. The selected service provider will have to comply with security provisions at all the three key levels i.e. User level, Application/Data Centre level, and Network/Transport level. MEA has already appointed the Standard Testing and Quality Control Directorate (STQC) of the Department of Information & Technology to conduct a comprehensive third party security audit.  The audit will be conducted before the operationalization of the system and thereafter every year.

The ownership and strategic control of the core and critical assets of the project i.e. Passport application software, system software and Data Centre would be with the Ministry of External Affairs.  The entire data of Passport Seva System containing personal information including the biometric information of the applicants would be residing in the Data Centre and the Disaster Recovery Centre which will be located in the premises belonging to the Ministry with complete security controls and such data cannot be compromised. The operations of Data Centre and the Disaster Recovery Centre will be under the supervision of MEA through a Project Management Unit (PMU)/ Special Purpose Vehicle (SPV). The access to data, data storage media and Passport system will be regulated and monitored very strictly by the PMU/SPV.

“Passport Seva Project will enable citizens to enjoy the benefits of a technology-led, service oriented approach to passports while ensuring that the proper security, safety and safeguards are maintained.

The Passport Seva Kendras (PSK) will be  extended arms of the Central Passport Organisation of the Ministry of External Affairs and would be headed by a senior officer of the Central Passport Organisation at each center.  The service provider would only handle the responsibilities at the PSK relating to handling of the visitors and capturing of the data relating to passport applications. There will be counters staffed by the officials of the Central Passport Organisation who will take care of critical steps for document verification, indexing and granting and only they (the Government Employees at PSKs) will be able to access the above mentioned categories of data i.e the same officers who are conducting the checks presently will continue to do so in the Passport Seva Project with advanced IT tools. There would be a partitioning of the LAN (Local Area Network) at each of the PSKs between the officials of the Central Passport Organisation and the operators of the private agency. Also, government counters in PSKs will be in an area marked distinctly for them from the private counters of the service provider. Any access to the Passport Seva Systems at the PSKs or the passport offices would be exclusively based on authentication through biometrics of the concerned individuals.  All the Service Provider staff will be required to go through a biometric access control mechanism before logging into the Passport system. The system will also capture details of all the access.

In addition to defining access controls, the proposed system mandates that every passport related transaction which involves any addition/ modification/ deletion will have to be digitally signed by the official doing it. The sensitive function of handling blank passport booklets will also remain with government employees. Since the entire process will remain under government control, the government will remain accountable for correct issuance of passports under the Passports Act. To the extent, the service provider is involved in the process, the government will in turn enforce his accountability through a contract with strict obligations on the part of the service provider. The data coming in the possession of the service provider at the time of submission of application will be used by him only to feed the same into the data base under the government control for issuance of passport. Thereafter, the data is no longer available to the staff of the service provider.

Looking Forward

The Pilot PSKs at Bangalore and Chandigarh are scheduled to be operational by the beginning of March 2009.  Following three month stabilization of the pilot locations and after the requisite certification by STQC, the Go-Live of the pilot locations is scheduled by the beginning of June 2009.  After ensuring success of the operation of the pilot locations, the full project i.e. the setting up of all the 77 PSKs and up gradation of the present 37 Passport Offices are scheduled to be completed by the first week of January 2010. Citizens can look forward to  service provisioning within defined service levels, closer and larger number of access points for services, availability of a portfolio of on-line services with real-time status tracking and enquiry including payment of fee online, an effective system of grievance redressal and strict adherence to the ‘First In-First Out’ principle in rendering of services.

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