India will soon begin issuing electronic passports to its citizens within three days of applying using biometrics and digital technology, External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna said Saturday.
In the run-up to commissioning the high-tech service, Krishna unveiled two e-Passport Seva Kendras (PSK) in this tech hub that will be operated by India's IT bellwether Tata Consultancy Services (TCS), which bagged the multi-billion rupee deal.
"Our objective is to ensure that it becomes much easier for any citizen of this country to get a passport in electronic format in the shortest time (three days) in a transparent and reliable manner through streamlined processes," Krishna told reporters at one of the centres set up on a pilot basis in the heart of the city.
The other five centres where PSKs have been set up are Hubli and Mangalore in Karnataka, one each in Chandigarh, Ludhiana in Punjab and Ambala in Haryana.
The second centre in the state is located in east Bangalore near the old airport. A mini-PSK will be set up at Gulbarga in north Karnataka soon.
The PSKs will dispatch fresh passports in three working days after submission subject to police verification and on same day under the tatkaal scheme.
The consular and passport division (CPV) of the external affairs ministry plans to set up 77 PSKs across the country by 2011 in partnership with TCS at an estimated cost of Rs.100 crore (Rs.1 billion).
"The demand for passports is projected to touch 10 million in 2011 from 5.7 million in 2010," Krishna noted.
Though the existing 37 passport offices across the country are fully computerised, the average time take to deliver a passport is 30-45 days.
"Rapidly growing demand has put considerable strain on manpower and infrastructure leading to delays in issuance of passports and crowded conditions in passport offices," the CPV said in a statement issued.
Allaying apprehensions of CPV division employees working in passport offices on outsourcing the front and back office operations to a private partner (TCS), Krishna said their concerns and grievances were being addressed by the ministry.
"I have assured the employees that their jobs were safe and their service is protected. On the contrary, the e-passport service will enhance their quality of work and efficiency, as they will be fully trained in using the latest technology," Krishna clarified.
Terming the PSKs as the ministry's flagship service, the minister said the employees would continue to perform sovereign and sensitive functions, including granting, printing and dispatch of passports, besides policy issues.
When fully commissioned over the next 18 months, the 77 PSKs will be linked to a centralised data and disaster recovery centre in New Delhi and connected with present passport offices and district police headquarters.
The system has been planned with 99.5 percent up-time.
In addition to digital photo, the e-passport will have fingerprints of the applicant embedded in the book.
"The service provider (TCS) will charge Rs.199 per applicant towards processing fee for issuing an e-passport. The data centre and disaster recover centre will be manned by the CPV along with the National Informatics Centre and the Software Technology Parks of India (STPI), a CPV official told IANS.
For ensuring fool-proof security, the ministry has appointed the standard testing and quality control directorate (STQC) of the department of IT to conduct a comprehensive third party audit.
"The ownership and strategic control of the core and critical assets of the project, i.e., passport application software, system software and data centre will rest with the ministry," the official pointed out.