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India simplifies passport procedures

Despite concerns, Govt will cut back paperwork needed to get passport, reports Nilova R Chaudhury.

india Updated: Dec 27, 2006 11:43 IST

As increasing numbers of Indians travel abroad, the requirement of passports is also increasing. The government has finally decided to reduce pendency and simplify the process of acquiring passports. Despite security concerns, the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) decided to cut back the paperwork needed to get a passport.

The proposals aim to "balance security with citizen’s comforts" and make it easier to establish an applicant’s identity. They also aim to reduce the power of the government ‘babu’ to verify the character of an applicant and deem them worthy citizens. All officials from under-secretary upwards (as opposed to deputy secretary and above at present) and officers of equivalent rank in state governments will be authorised to verify an applicant’s authenticity and character.

Armed forces officers, of the rank of Major and above, heads of public sector undertakings and of apex business organisations will also be authorised to issue verification certificates. The new rules, codified in the Gazette of India, allow an applicant submitting three of the 14 stipulated identification documents to get a new passport, based on post-issuance police verification.

Existing time limits of 10 and 20 days for Tatkal passports are being cut to 7 and 14 days. Re-issuance of Tatkal passports will be done in three working days, External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee said. And if there is no negative information about an applicant, no police verification will be necessary to renew his or her passport.

With close to four million passports issued in 2006, and half as many waiting in the pipeline, the MEA, which issues the passports, hopes to make passport application "less of a trial and more of a routine procedure," a senior official explained.

The machine-printed passports issued now are compliant with norms issued by the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO). However, keeping increased terrorist threat perceptions in mind, biometric passports are being considered.

"These passports will have a micro-processor based digital storage device embedded in them which, besides containing the usual information concerning the holder, will also have certain biometric features of the holder, such as finger-prints, written on it," Mukherjee said. This would help cut back on forgeries and holding multiple passports.

"A number of steps have been taken to simplify the passport issuance procedure and to make it applicant-friendly," Mukherjee said, addressing a meeting of passport officials last week. "These include the Tatkal  Scheme, grant across the counter, issuance and re-issuance of passports in a majority of cases for full validity of ten years and on line registration of applicants in 14 passport offices." 

New Regional Passport offices will begin functioning shortly at Amritsar, Dehradun, Raipur and Simla, while RPOs have been okayed for Madurai and Coimbatore.

Efforts to simplify the process took off earlier this year by allowing on-line registration of applicants and use of 1095 Speed Post Centres for application. The initiative to involve the postal department, whose fortunes were flagging because of the courier boom, was intended to cut down queues at passport offices across the country. It also reduced the MEA’s interface with the public, with which it is increasingly unable to cope.

E-mail Nilova Roy Chaudhury: nilova@hindustantimes.com