BANGALORE: External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna Friday formally launched the Passport Seva Project, an ambitious e-governance programme that aims to drastically reduce the time taken to obtain a passport.
"Today’s inauguration marks a red letter day in the quest of my ministry to bring about quantum improvement in the quality of passport services to our citizens," Krishna said.
At the inauguration ceremony, Krishna unveiled four brass plaques for the four Passport Seva Kendras (PSK) opened in Karnataka.
Chief Minister B.S. Yedyurappa was also present at the function held at the new multi-storeyed regional passport office here.
Krishna said the resulting opportunity from economic liberalisation and proportion of youth in the country has pushed demand of passports to unprecedented levels. Due to this growth in demand, citizens faced several delays and difficulties.
"It became clear that mere growth in capacity will not suffice," he said.
As part of the pilot project, four PSKs were opened in Karnataka – two in Bangalore and one each in Hubli and Mangalore. Three more centres will be opened in Punjab in the first week of June.
If the pilot project is certified as a success at the end of three months, then 77 more such kendras will be rolled out in three phases.
Besides, there will be 14 mini-PSKs most of them in the northeastern region.
In October 2008, IT major Tata Consultancy Service (TCS) signed an agreement with the ministry of external affairs to be the service provider for the project that is reported to be around Rs.1,000 crore.
However, the project could not be started on time as the software had to be made as error-free as possible.
The ministry had also penalized TCS for the delay in the start of the project.
Krishna admitted that the project has not been an "easy task".
"There were challenges and difficulties which needed to be surmounted before the system could be opened to the public," he said.
Security concerns were also raised at various fora, including parliament, over the project which will have a private partner for the first time.
External affairs officials, however, assert that TCS employees will only be limited to accepting applications, with the entire back-end to be manned by government employees.
Officials said that instead of the long queues in overcrowded halls, applicants will now have to spend just 45 minutes and that too in the air-conditioned, swanky interiors of the PSKs.
"The Passport Seva Project is a path breaker in more than one way. It involves several innovations. It is the first national level project capturing biometrics and has set up the first government call centre in 18 languages," Krishna asserted.
He also acknowledged the cooperation of the passport employees’ union in the successful implementation of the project. "I am personally indebted to them," he said.
Officials admit that the delivery period for the passport will ultimately depend on the speed of the police verification.
But excluding the time for verification, a new passport should be issued in not more than three days, the officials maintained.
Stating that the passport system was "totally dependent" on state police for verification, Krishna therefore made an appeal to the state government to expedite the process of checking of address and antecedents.
"Ministry has enhanced the amount payable to the state governments from Rs.100 to Rs.150 per verification," he said.(IANS)