The new microchip infused e-passports

What is the latest agreement between the MEA and TCS about Indian passports? What can be expected from PSP-V2.0?

Updated - January 10, 2022 05:15 pm IST

Published - January 10, 2022 11:23 am IST

indian passport and authentic indian tricolour flag made up of khadi or pure cotton material

indian passport and authentic indian tricolour flag made up of khadi or pure cotton material

The story so far: The Ministry of External Affairs on January 7 signed an agreement with Tata Consultancy Services Limited for the second phase of the Passport Seva Programme (PSP), one of the several Mission Mode Projects (MMPs) of the Government of India. The latest agreement will facilitate the next phase of the PSP termed PSP-V2.0. The $1 billion agreement will focus on faster delivery of passports to the citizens and create a more effective integration between various wings of the Government like the MEA and the local police network that can work in harmony for verification of applicants and quick tracing in case of emergency situations.

What are the features of the new passport initiative programme?

The present passport application and processing continues to involve manual sections and these are expected to go digital in the new phase. The Ministry of External Affairs said that the PSP-V2.0 is a “continuation and enhancement” of PSP-V1.0. An official statement said that the new initiative is aimed at creating a digital platform that would be “transparent, more accessible and reliable” and that it would be backed by a trained workforce. This will create a state-of-the-art digital ecosystem, overhaul existing processes and integrate various wings of Government that are involved in issuance of passports. The issue of training of the employees in the new process is however, yet to begin which is expected to take some time.

What will be the nature of partnership with TCS?

Tata Consultancy Services according to the MEA will ensure “support functions” like “citizen interface, technology backbone, call centres, training and change management”. The Government will exercise “all sovereign and security related functions” in the process of issuing of passports. Strategic assets like Data Centres, Database and the application software will be owned by the Government and access would be controlled through biometrics. The programme also plans to have a Data Centre, Disaster Recovery Centre and Government Secure Repository which would be networked with all the Passport Seva Kendras and the Post Office Passport Seva Kendras (POPSK). The overall system would be connected to all the Indian diplomatic missions abroad and will allow monitoring and supervision through state-of-art Network Operation Centre, and Security Operation Centre . “The programme has recently been connected to more than 176 Indian Missions/Posts through Global Passport Seva Programme (GPSP), providing seamless delivery of passport services to Indian diaspora,” said the MEA in a statement.

The public private partnership however, is required to address the issue of shortfall of Government employees in the passport offices across the country. The announcement highlighted that the Government is gearing up for starting Seva Kendras in all the Lok Sabha constituencies of the country. But, according to the employees in the Passport division, there remain a large number of vacancies in the Government positions in these offices and a full spectrum “monitoring and supervision” will require more staff members from the side of the Government. Despite the Government’s ambitious expansion programme, these vacancies are yet to be filled.

What will be the new features of PSP-V2.0?

The new programme is expected to have technology upgrade including the use of latest biometrics technology, Artificial Intelligence, Advance Data Analytics, Chat-Bot, Auto-response, Natural Language Processing, Cloud Enablement. The newest feature under the PSP-V2.0 will be the issuance of the new generation of passports called e-passports. Under this, new and renewed passports will be fitted with a microchip that will hold all biometric information regarding the applicants. Sanjay Bhattacharyya, Secretary in MEA in charge of passport services, said in a social media message that the next gen e-passports will ease immigration process across the world and will also increase digital safety for the passport holders.

How different will e-passports be from the current passports?

Current passports are scanned at the immigration counters to reveal the travel record of the citizen using the same document and the e-passport is also expected to perform the same function. However, unlike the current passports, the e-passport users will have physical storage of their biometric data in a chip which will reduce risk of data leakage.

Is the public private partnership without any shortcoming?

The MEA-TCS collaboration has been a part of the passport process since 2008 and has helped in increasing digitisation of the complex process that requires multiple stakeholders across the spectrum of the vast Government network. However, it is understood that more harmony between them will help citizens acquire passports without delays.

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