Technical glitches at RPO causes inconvenience to citizens

Result of gaps in MEA's migration strategy for shifting the service delivery processes from an old to a new IT system; IB probing sabotage possibility

pratap

Pratap Vikram Singh | April 21, 2012



Since Wednesday, the tatkal applicants at the regional passport office (RPO) of New Delhi have been facing a hard time. The counter for tatkal applications at Bhikaji Cama office has been closed, after one of the computer servers at the RPO went down, developing a snag.   

“My son and daughter in law are scheduled to fly abroad in a few days time but their passport had to be renewed. On Tuesday morning, when I went to RPO, my application was rubber stamped and I was given a token, saying that I should come on Wednesday for further formalities. When I went on Wednesday I was asked to come on Thursday and then eventually on Friday,” a senior media person who failed to get his work done after multiple visits told to Governance Now. 

When the server went down, the applicants at the RPO were told that a “server has caught fire” and that they should come the other day. However, the applicants, who could be more than a hundred in numbers failed to get their work done even on Friday, after repeated visits to the passport office.

According to some government sources, the probelm came in light after one of the computer servers operational under old online system went down at 10.30 am, owing to bugging of a random access memory (RAM) and insufficiency of motherboard in handling increased number of applications. 
 
"At the RPO, the information technology machinery, which  has been in place since past nine years, has already lived its life and is no longer covered under any annual maintenance contract (AMC)," a senior government official with national informatics centre, NIC told Governance Now. NIC is the nodal agency which handled the online passport system of the ministry of external affairs (MEA) before the passport seva project (PSP) project came in existence. PSP is being implemented by Tata Consultancy Services (TCS).
 
He said that the old IT system, being run by NIC, was scheuled to shut down immediately after the national roll out of the PSP. “However, the old and new systems were being run parallelly, compromising on the security of the system and usability of the hardware already in place for nine years,” he complained. 
 
Since the NIC got out of the contract with MEA in 2009 as soon the ministry signed pact with TCS, it was not able to procure or buy new hardware for the required replacement. “We brought this into the notice of the MEA several times, but that’s all we can do,” he said.
 
Apparently, this shows a wide gap in the government's strategy for migration of service delivery processes from an old to a new system. According to the detailed project report (DPR) of the PSP, as soon the pilots in Bangalore and Chandigarh get over, the project would be rolled across all 37 RPOs within six months.  Here TCS had to take over the project completely, but it failed, he said.
 
The NIC official also said that what happed on Wednesday has already happened in December, 2011.  Moreover, he cautioned that since the takeover is happening partially, the going down of servers and subsequently services would happen in most of the RPOs, given the fact that most of the hardware systems have no AMC cover.
 
An official with MEA, requesting anonymity, said that the real issue is about transfer of legacy data. The delays are not due to the PSP implementation but with the existing applications pending with the older system, he said. He informed that the processing of fresh applications in the new system has been going smooth. The delays are in particular cases in which applications were filed in the older system and which are currently at various levels of disposal.
 
A senior management official with TCS blamed the old systems being run by NIC for the crisis and said that TCS has nothing to do with it. Defending TCS, he said, “Our system is working fine. The applicants who initially went to Bhikaji Cama office, have now been directed to our PSK at Herald House in Delhi and we are managing it very well.”

According to some informed sources, the crashing down of the server could also be a sabotage by some vested interest. The sources said that this has been brought into the notice of intelligence bureau (IB), which has deployed couple of officials for investigation. 

The government would close the Bhikaji Cama office, which was until now taking tatkal and miscellaneous applications, completely for service delivery and will soon be opening a PSK within the premises, the NIC official said.

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