Digi Yatra could be expanded to hotels, rail travel and public places: CEO

Digi Yatra e-gates are also being ramped up at airports to cover various checkpoints such as baggage drop and boarding gates; the vision is to aid seamless movement across India, says CEO of Digi Yatra Foundation, Suresh Khadakbhavi

Updated - June 18, 2024 08:36 am IST

Published - June 18, 2024 07:49 am IST - NEW DELHI

Passenger scanning of the Digi Yatra facility has been commissioned at Chennai Airport Domestic terminals.

Passenger scanning of the Digi Yatra facility has been commissioned at Chennai Airport Domestic terminals. | Photo Credit: B. VELANKANNI RAJ

The facial-recognition technology based check-in service at airports, called Digi Yatra, could be implemented at hotels and public places such as historical monuments, according to the CEO of Digi Yatra Foundation, Suresh Khadakbhavi. He said that a prototype for this use-case had been developed and discussions were ongoing with various government agencies such as the Ministry of Tourism.

Also Read: Digi Yatra Foundation drops app maker after ‘data-breach’ 

“The vision is to create a travel stack for seamless movement across India,” Mr. Khadakbhavi said in an exclusive interview with The Hindu while talking about the future use-cases of Digi Yatra.

“This would enhance the travel experience for a tourist who has to produce a passport for check-in at a hotel and at police stations for verification,” he said citing the example of the Taj Mahal. Digi Yatra could also be used for rail travel, and an initial discussion has also been held with the Ministry of Railways. Nationals of certain countries such as Pakistan are required to report their arrival and intended departure at each place of stay within 24 hours at the nearest police station. Tourists of other nationalities who hold a visa for a period of more than 180 days are also required to register at the Foreign Regional Registration Office (FRRO).

Mr. Khadakbhavi explained that extending Digi Yatra to hotels and public places would prevent data leakage as people often tend to share unencrypted form of identity documents through photocopies and screenshots, whereas Digi Yatra ID doesn’t carry any personally identifiable information. The Digi Yatra Central Ecosystem only saves a hash value or a numerical value that identifies the content of the file so that none of the four data items shared by passengers at the time of registering on the app (name, Aadhaar, face scan and passport number) can be leaked anywhere in the system.

The Digi Yatra initiative is digital processing of air travellers which uses their biometrics such as a facial scan instead of a boarding pass to enable paperless movement through various checkpoints at an airport. The initiative was rolled out at airports in December 2022, and today covers 14 airports while 15 more airports will be included by the end of 2024.

The primary aim of the initiative at the time its policy document was launched in 2017 was to improve passenger throughput (or number of passengers passing through various checkpoints) at airports. This would achieve the objective of enhancing airport infrastructure needed to cater to increasing passenger volumes by ensuring more efficient airport operations, alongside physical expansion of airports in the country. But the proposed use-case for hotels and other public places implies that the role for Digi Yatra could extend beyond air travel. The Digi Yatra Foundation itself is a not-profit private company which is a consortium of five private airports that have a combined shareholding of 74%, and Airports Authority of India which holding the remainder 26% share. The Foundation is also funded by this consortium.

Watch | What is DigiYatra, and why were people complaining about it in airports?

At airports, so far Digi Yatra e-gates were deployed primarily at entry gates outside airports as well as security screening queues inside the passenger terminal building. Now, they increasingly can be seen at more touch-points such as boarding gates as well as baggage drops. “Digi Yatra was envisaged for all the touchpoints, such as airport entry gates, check-in, baggage drop and boarding gates. But airports rolled them out for airport entry gates and security checkpoints, and some have started to also implement it at baggage drop,” Mr. Khadakbhavi said explaining this would eliminate the need for producing boarding passes wherever passengers are required to do so.

On the issue of privacy concerns raised by its policy document, such as access to data for third-party vendors as well as the circumstances under which its mandatory data purge within 24 hours can be set aside, the CEO said that they will soon be releasing a revised policy document to address language issues that have raised concerns over possible misuse.

On concerns over lack of consent from users at airports where enrolments are being carried out on the day of travel, Mr. Khadakbhavi blamed “overenthusiasm” among private airport staff in enrolling travellers and that they were in conversation with airports to ensure their staff is adequately sensitised.

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