Chief passport officer talks about curbing the role of intermediaries

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Pratap Vikram Singh | May 15, 2015


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Since its rollout in 2012, the passport seva project has made the process of issuing passports hassle-free and quick. In an interaction with Pratap Vikram Singh, Pardeshi talks about the challenges in streamlining the process and curbing the role of intermediaries.

How satisfactory has been the work of passport seva kendras (PSKs) over the years?


We started the pilot in May 2010 and by June 2012 we achieved most of our targets. We had set up 77 PSKs, data centre, network operation centre and software. We conducted change management and training sessions. Our performance has been improving over the years. At present, our approach is to make the citizen’s experience pleasurable and hassle-free. An applicant visits our portal, fills up the form with basic user data and a digital file is created. Now, when the applicants come to the office they only have to carry certain documents. Our staff works through digital signatures. Physical signature is not in use [anymore]. When the application is finally submitted, we give a printout and get it signed by the applicant. This provides legal sanctity. In 2013, we issued 86.88 lakh passports and processed related applications. In 2014, the number rose to 1.01 crore. Since 2012, two crore passports have been issued. The total number of passports issued in the country is six crore.

But applicants still have to carry documents at three different counters, which is time consuming.

On average, the time spent by an applicant ranges from 25 to 75 minutes. If the appointment is at 12.30 pm, around lunch, then it stretches beyond the time limit. Tatkal cases take more time. Based on a 2014 analysis, it may take 25 minutes for applicants in Kerala, while in Delhi this may take up to 70 minutes.

When the business flow was studied some redundant steps were eliminated, and a few steps were added to strengthen the security process. Governance is not always about cutting down the processes. Now, digital photographs are taken at the PSK. Then we collect biometrics. The whole form is filled in the presence of the applicant. It has been one year and I haven’t come across a single application where name and other credentials were contested. Initial work is handled by TCS employees. Passport officers check the authenticity of identification documents. Tomorrow if documents are authenticated [through an online mechanism] then our officers will just have to press a button. The granting officer takes decision on whether an application has to be approved or not. This process prevents approval of malafide applications.

Cases of policemen demanding money during the police verification process still persist. Your comment?

Out of 725 police districts, 600 districts are already integrated with passport offices. We are targeting to integrate the remaining districts. Progress is quite slow in the northeastern states as they are not yet online. By June-July, we hope to cover most of police stations. Law and order is a state subject. We negotiated with all states and UTs, and response from them varied. After the granting officer goes through the application, a one-page report with relevant field for police verification is generated by the system. This report is sent to the superintendent of police of the district. It is then downloaded, segregated and sent to the concerned thana. Right now integration happens at the district level and not at the police station level. After the thana does the verification process it sends the report to the SP office, which is then received by us. We have given digital signatures to all SPs. This has drastically reduced the time taken in police verification. Delhi Police, for example, takes 12 days [for verification]. Telangana and Andhra Pradesh police take 20 days, while Uttar Pradesh police takes 60 to 70 days. By December 31, 2013 average time taken for police verification was 49 days in the country. In 2014 it came down to 40 days, in spite of sending more applications to the police. 

As a chief passport officer, more than time, what matters the most to me is accountability and transparency. In the manual system we didn’t know where the form was lying, at the SP office or at thana level. Now we can track it down. All DGPs have a dashboard to monitor how districts are performing. That accountability has come in.

It is interesting to note that the Hyderabad police has given a tablet to enquiry officers. A message goes to the applicant informing them about the enquiry officer and when that officer would make a visit. The message also gives a number to the applicant to report any grievance. I don’t think any cop can do mischief now. The tablet also records the geo-location of a cop. In a few months we are planning to make this a pan-India application.

The whole process is still not free from the intermediaries.

Well, we cannot boast of completely eliminating malpractices from any society. That’s a claim nobody can make. But I think, to a large extent, the need to go to an intermediary has been minimised. Earlier travel agents were authorised to represent a citizen. This is not the case anymore.

How is the cost structure of the project distributed?

We did not spend on infrastructure. TCS gets Rs 150 per application, which is very cost-effective as it has to pay to its employees, maintain 77 PSKs, electricity, cleaning and security. If we are doing one crore applications, they will get '150 crore in one year.

We paid Rs 50 crore for software, data centre and disaster recovery centre. There is no other capex and opex involved. Subject to meeting the service level agreement, TCS is paid on a per transaction basis, quarterly. There are 27 parameters including efficiency of staff, services, etc., which should be available all the time.

So far what has been the progress on the e-passport system?

We are already collecting biometrics. The new passport will have a chip, which will contain biometrics and data fields - printed and digitally stored. If someone manipulates with the printed information, it can be seen through the chip.

The International Civil Aviation Organisation, a body under the UN, responsible for air traffic, is looking after e-passport globally. Post 9/11, handwritten passports were phased out. If you have a handwritten passport you may not get entry in many countries.
A task force appointed by the government has submitted its report. We have given authorisation to India Security Press to print new chip-based passports. The agency is in the tendering process.

We have six crore passports. More than two crore passports have been issued from PSK. We have biometric details for these two crore passport holders. The remaining people will have to come to PSK and give data.

pratap@governancenow.com

(The interview appears in the May 1-15, 2015 issue)

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