Muktesh K Pardeshi
Joint Secretary (PSP) & Chief Passport Officer, Ministry of External Affairs, Government of India
Muktesh K Pardeshi sheds light on the innovative measures that are being taken to ensure that passport related grievances of the citizens are resolved in a timely and transparent manner
The new passport offices are swankier and much efficient than the earlier offices. This is a commendable achievement. But does this also mean that through this project the entire system of passport issuance has been privatised?
The issuance of passports continues to be a public service being rendered by the Government of India. Only limited numbers of functions have been outsourced with the idea of bringing more efficiency. As earlier, the decision to issue a passport to any citizen continues to be vested with the Government of India. In the Passport Seva Kendras , the services are being provided by the Tata Consultancy Services and the Regional Passport Officer. There is complete segregation of activities. To TCS, we have delegated the transit activities like the capturing and handling of demographic data, scanning and uploading of supporting documents, taking the applicant’s photograph and biometrics, and the acceptance of fees. The verification of the documents is being done by the Government Officials. And the decision on the eligibility of the applicants is also being decided by the Government.
As Chief Passport Officer, what role are you playing in the process by which Passports are allotted?
Actually I have two roles. As Joint Secretary, Passport Seva Project, I am the designated mission leader of this e-Governance project, which has been undertaken by the Ministry of External Affairs. Secondly, I also have to perform a quasi-judicial role as the Chief Passport Officer. As the Chief Passport Officer, I head the department called Central Passport Organisation. So I am the Chief Passport Officer of India. Under the Passport Act all the passport officers have quasi-judicial functions. As the chief passport officer, I have appellate power. I act as the head of the department. I am also the cadre controlling authority of around 2,700 people.
What kind of role does the appellate authority play in ensuring that better passport services are available to the citizens of the country? What is your vision for the appellate authority?
My vision is the same as that of the Government of India. It is to ensure that passport related services are available to the citizens in a timely, transparent and more accessible manner. The citizens should be able to procure passports in a comfortable manner, without having to run around to various offices. However, despite having the best systems some citizens in different parts of the country might face some difficulty in getting their passports. So we have a system of grievance redressal. Suppose someone applies for a new passport
in Jaipur and for some reason, he is denied a passport by the local office. Then that applicant is free to appeal before me. It is a statutory procedure. They have to file an appeal with Rs 25. Every month I have to hold hearings for around 20 people from all over India. The grievance can also be from people whose passports have been seized by any agency.
We have been told that a passport is a basic right of the citizen. It is also the ultimate proof of citizenship. How is it that at times, the passport service is denied to some people?
Under the Passport Act, the government can give you passport service, but it can also deny you the passport. Passport is the right of the citizens, but this right has to be read in conjunction with other legal structures. If somebody is convicted by a court or there is a summon, to appear before court, or if the security agencies feel that somebody’s going away may jeopardize national security, then the government can take a view. Such a view is taken after lot of deliberations and a comprehensive round of investigations. There has to be sufficient ground for denying a passport service to a citizen. If this kind of denial has happened, the citizen can appeal to the appellate authority.
What are the most common reasons, due to which passports can be denied to any individual?
Most of the cases are related to any individual holding duplicate passports. In these cases, either they have applied for a second passport or there are allegations that they have been holding two-three passports under different identities. The facts about their multiple passports could have emerged through police investigations or through a process of matching data. If someone has gone abroad and sought asylum there, then that can become a basis for denying passport related services. Many times the problem may be the result of marital disputes. If there is problem between the husband and the wife and there are domestic violence issues, then they can drag one side to the court. If the court proceedings are ongoing, then that becomes a basis of denial of passports
You said that people can also lodge an appeal if their passport has been seized by other agencies. What is the procedure in such cases?
In such cases, people lodge a complaint, not against the RPO, but against some other agency. You see, in the immigration, they are not empowered to keep the passport. If there is any doubt, the immigration authority will seize the passport and send it to the issuing authority. Even if the passport is issued from Trivandrum and it is held at the Delhi airport, it will be sent to Trivandrum. The applicant will then ask the passport office at Trivandrum to make an application with requisite fees. Thenthose dossiers will be sent to the Chief Passport Officer. This may take some time. The RPO will send the application with a case history to us, and on receipt of the same we will slot a date for hearing. Under the Passport Act we have the power to register an FIR, and on conviction, the punishment can be up to two years and the penalty of Rs 5,000.
“Pass port is the right of the citizens, but this right has to be exercised in conjunction with other legal provisions”
How much time does it normally take to reach a conclusion in such cases?
It can take a few months. The moment any case comes before us, we start the process of making a reference to the issuing authority, from which the passport was issued. This is because the reference authority would have all the details. Once the reference is made, in the passport office, somebody who is working in the policy section will retrieve the data and look through the file. He will make a case history for the ministry, because when we take a decision we take it on the basis of all the facts. We have a legal consultant, who goes into the legal nitty-gritty’s of the case. If there are some court papers attached, we request the applicant to give us certified copy. If the person has stayed abroad and some problem has occurred there, the reference will go to the embassy abroad. However, if there is an emergency, we can fast track the process. Sometimes, there are court orders, which say you have to do the hearing within a stipulated time frame.
Is there any scope of having grievance in the area of grievance redressal also? This may help people to get judgement quickly.
e-Governance is already being used. So far as documentation is concerned, we are already using ICT. We have national call centre, which is toll free. Here people can seek the status of their application; they can ask information on how to apply for a passport or where their passport application is pending. The service is available in 17 languages. Every day the system receives 24,000 to 25,000 complaints or requests for information. They can also seek solution to their problems through emails by sending mails to: firstname.lastname@example.org. They can also write on the website of Department of Public Grievance. This department has a system of Centralised Passport Grievances System. You can select the option of ‘passport’ and register your complaint. On registration of complaint, they get a complaint number and the issue comes before us.
There has been lot of improvement in passport related services, but the public is expecting something still better from the department. So what can be the next level of e-Governance implementation in passport services?
It is in area of police verification that we have to do lot of work. Currently we are having three models. We are working on different models currently and we hope that in times to come the process of police verification will become much less time consuming.