Basant K Gupta
Additional Secretary, Ministry of External Affairs, Government of India
“Mission Mode e-Governance projects like Passport Seva Kendra Project showcase how effectively a partnership model can work to provide world class government services to the citizens,” says Basant K Gupta
The Passport Seva Kendras are a laudable initiative. What is your view of the initiative?
The Passport Seva Project was launched to streamline the passport delivery system in the country. It is designed to make the process of issuance of passports more timely, transparent, reliable and comfortable, through streamlined processes and committed, trained and motivated workforce. The Project has been launched in Public- Private-Partnership (PPP) mode with TCS as the service provider. A decade ago, the passport authorities used to have a huge backlog in issuance of fresh passports. This was due to various factors. Now things have become much better due to technological advancements. To put it in a nutshell, today it is possible for anyone to have a passport in about 30 to 35 days. For those going by the tatkal route, the passport can be availed in less than 7 working days. This is a great achievement.
So would you say that it is primarily the technological advancements that have led to such improvements in passport related services?
Of course, use of new technology has a key role to play in the success of the PSKs. The people behind the technology are also important, as unless there is a proper policy framework, the right technology cannot be implemented. The success of the Passport Seva Project is by itself a demonstration of how innovative use of Information and Communication Technology (ICT) can transform the way citizens receive services from government institutions. The state of the art PSKs, the user friendly websites, the system of text messaging and emails, the frequently-asked-questions (FAQs) have made the task of getting passports much easier for the citizens in the country. Other than technology, the infrastructure is also world class.
Lot of new infrastructure and systems have been created to ensure the smooth functioning of the passport issuing system in the country. Tell us about it.
Under the Passport Seva Project we have started a number of very high-tech, ultra-modern, world-class offices in different parts of the
country. 37 Passport Offices, 77 Passport Seva Kendras (PSKs) and 16 Passport Seva Laghu Kendras(PSLK) are being established across the country as part of Passport Seva. These offices, equipped with the latest technology, are running systems that are based on the best practices from around the globe. We have online system toenable citizens to submit their passport applications and seek appointment through the PSP portal www.passportindia.gov.in at their convenience. The portal provides comprehensive and latest information on all passport related services. So it becomes possible for the citizens to plan their visit to the nearest PSK at the appointment date/time, thus avoiding long queues and inconvenience. Earlier the citizens had to bring their own photographs for the passport and at times the photographs would get rejected due their not being in the right size or being unclear. Now the PSKs are having state-of-the-art technology infrastructure for end-to-end passport services to be delivered with enhanced security comparable to the best in the world. The photograph and biometrics of the applicants are captured when they visit the PSK. Their applications and supporting documents are digitised and stored in the system for further processing.
Do you think that the system of online appointments for submitting requests for new passports is working perfectly in the way it was expected to?
I would say that it is working quite well. The e-appointment facility has, to a large extent, discouraged the public from approaching touts, who earlier used to lure the public by making promises of getting their passports made in not time, but only to disappear with fancy sums. Most people like it that they are able to schedule their appointments at the passport office and there is very little wastage of time. At times hurdles do arise as some applicants miss their appointments after getting confirmed appointment time through the online process. Due to this those with genuine need get delayed. My advice to applicants is that they should do their best to keep their appointments with the passport office.
The amenities at the Passport Seva Kendras are world class. But these improved amenities must come at a cost. Is that why the charges of passports have been raised?
We take pride in the fact that the PSKs are providing world class ambience. Amenities in every PSK include helpful guides, information kiosks, photocopying, food and beverage facilities, public phone booth, baby care, newspapers and journals and television in a comfortable air-conditioned waiting lounge. The Electronic Queue Management System ensures the ‘first-infirst- out’ principle in application processing. The hike in passport fees has been very small. The Passport Act provides for charging of fee from citizens to recover the cost of the processing and dispatching of the passport. It was in 2002 that we revised the cost of passport services last time. The current rise in fees is to cover the rising cost of the infrastructure. A vast majority of people who avail of passports in the country are happy with the improved services and they have no issues in paying the higher fees.
Are you planning to increase the number of PSKs in the country?
The Government of India is keen on providing more and more PSKs to cater to the needs of the public seeking passports. The PSK concept has now taken root in the government and the public. It is now recognised as a significant step towards taking maximum advantage of the latest technological advancements. The system is not only convenient to the public, it is also facilitates better security. The state-of-the-art facility to scan and cross-check documents such as birth certificates, PAN numbers, etc., help the authorities in identifying bogus papers with much ease.
Your SMS facility for providing information to the citizens about the exact status of their passport applications is very popular.
I would say that the PSKs are one of the most successful e-Governance Mission Mode Projects in the country. Mission Mode e-Governance projects like Passport Seva Kendra Project showcase how effectively a partnership model can work to provide world class government services to the citizens. We have the SMS facility to remind the applicant about the various stages of the status of their application. For instance, when the application is dispatched to the local police for verification, the applicant gets the SMS – “Application dispatched for PV.” On receipt of the Police Verification report the applicant gets the message, “PV Complete.” At the final stage of the dispatch, the applicant is again sent a reminder. A clear mention of the mobile number in the applicant’s application form will clearly help in enabling us to disseminate the relevant information in a seamless and efficient manner.