NRI Achievers has, since the last issue, started bringing out a segment dealing with the activities of the External Affairs ministry, and more specifically the activities undertaken by the erstwhile Ministry of Overseas indian Affairs, which has since been remerged with the Foreign Ministry. Our connect with the Overseas Indian Affairs cell is all about creating a reader interface within the confines of our magazine that would bring FAQs, quality information and news to our esteemed readers. This issue carries the second such installment, where the Secretary (Overseas Indian Affairs) of the MEA, presently Dr. Dnyaneshwar M. Mulay, talks about the various proactive steps taken to make the issue of passports faster, easier and more inclusive across the country. Here goes …
A number of measures were taken by the MEA in the recent past, to make the issuance of passports more efficient and transparent. Here are some of them. The Passport Act was enacted and came into existence in the year 1967, and since then, there have been no major shifts in the implementation of the passport services in the country. Over a period of time, a number of new passport offices were opened, and they now constitute a total network of 38 such offices across the country. In the year 2012, however, it was deemed necessary to completely overhaul the passport services, and therefore, under the government’s E-Governance initiative, a Passport Seva Project (PSP) was kickstarted on a mission-mode. This Project envisaged delivery through a public-private partnership, and TCS (Tata Consultancy Services) was selected as the service provider. Since then, 90 Passport Seva Kendras (PSKs), in addition to 38 Passport offices have been opened in various parts of the country.
On what prompted the recent measures for simplification as well as the liberalization of rules, and how they improve the quality of service for the common man: Even after opening 90 PSKs, it was realized that a country having over a 125 crore population, with a large number of remote districts, cannot be fully catered to as is. A net result of MEA’s Passport Seva Project was reflected in the sheer numbers – the quantum of passport applications on an annual basis went up to 1.5 crore (15 million). However, that still constitutes a mere fragment of our population. Besides, there were also representations and complaints received from public about the difficulties in terms of date of birth certificates, requirements for single parents, orphaned children and large number of notarized affidavits. It was, therefore, necessary to usher in a complete transformation into the process of passport issuance so that people could easily get passport services. So what were the various measures initiated and implemented in the last year or so? Firstly, MEA improved reach into remote areas. They started utilizing Saturdays and Sundays to hold Camps/Melas in these areas. Over 80 Camps/Melas were organized during 2016, and a total of about 35,000 passport applications were processed in them. Subsequently, in the first major reform, those who could submit three documents, viz., (a) Aadhaar Card, (b) PAN Card, and (c) EPIC (Electoral Photo Identity Card), along with handwritten Affidavit confirming that no criminal case was pending, were given the Passport in a fast-track mode, without waiting for the Police Verification (PV). In those cases, PV would be done separately (in certain States, PV took considerable time). This particular step gave a boost to the number of applications for passports.
However, a major spate of reforms came in December 2016, following which many more liberalized norms were introduced. Here is a look at what happened and how matters were eased for common people applying for passports:
Date of Birth:
- Birth Certificate (BC) issued by Registrar of Births & Deaths, or Municipal Corporation, or any other prescribed authority empowered under the Registration of Birth & Deaths Act, 1969, to register the birth of a child born in India;
- School leaving/Matriculation Certificate issued by the school last attended/recognized educational board containing the DOB of applicant;
- PAN Card issued by the Income Tax Department with DOB of applicant;
- Aadhaar Card/E-Aadhaar having DOB of applicant;
- Copy of service record extract of applicant (Govt servants), or Pay Pension Order (retired Govt Servants) duly attested/certified by officer/in-charge of Administration of concerned Ministry/Department of applicant, having his DOB;
- Driving license issued by Transport Department of concerned State Government, having DOB of applicant;
- Election Photo Identity Card (EPIC) issued by Election Commission of India having DOB of applicant;
- Policy Bond issued by Public Life Insurance Corporations/Companies having DOB of policy holder.
Other notable changes easing issuance of passports included:
- The online passport application form now requiring applicant to provide the name of father, or mother, or legal guardian, i.e., only one parent and not both. This enabled single parents to apply for passports for their children and also to issue passports where the name of either the father or the mother is not required to be printed at the request of the applicant.
- The total number of annexes prescribed in the Passport Rules, 1980, were brought down from 15 to a mere 9.
- All annexes required to be provided by applicants are today in the form of a self-declaration on plain paper. No attestation/swearing by/before any Notary/Executive Magistrate/First Class Judicial Magistrate is henceforth necessary.
- Married applicants not required to provide any marriage certificate.
- The application form does not require applicant to provide name of her/his spouse in case of separated or divorced persons. Such applicants for passports would not be required to provide the Divorce Decree either.
- Orphaned children who do not have any proof of DOB such as Birth Certificate or Matriculation Certificate or Declaratory Court Order may now submit a declaration given by the Head of Orphanage/Child Care Home on their official letterhead confirming the DOB of applicant.
- In case of children not born out of wedlock, applicant for the passport of such children should submit only Annexure G while applying for a passport.
- In case of passport issual to in-country domestically adopted children, submission of registered adoption deed would no longer be required. In the absence of any deed to this effect, the passport applicant may give a declaration on plain paper confirming the adoption.
- Government servants unable to obtain Identity Certificate (Annexure-B)/ No-Objection Certificate (Annexure-H) from their concerned employer and intend to get the passport on urgent basis can now do so by submitting a self-declaration in Annexure-‘N’ that he/she has given Prior Intimation Letter to his/her employer informing that he/she is applying for an ordinary passport to a Passport Issuing Authority.
- Sadhus/ Sanyasis can apply for a passport with the name of their spiritual Guru mentioned in the passport application in lieu of their biological parent(s) name(s), subject to their providing at least one public document such as Election Photo Identity Card (EPIC) issued by the Election Commission of India, PAN card, Aadhaar Card, etc., wherein the name of the Guru has been recorded against the column(s) for parent(s) name(s).
After all these initiatives, the number of applications for passports, on a monthly basis, have gone up by about 30 percent in most PSKs. This goes to show that the reforms were indeed much needed, and were initiated in a timely manner. This is today certainly changing lives of many people, who were hitherto somehow prevented from obtaining a passport due to hard-coded requirement of certain documents. Many newspapers have hailed these changes as transformative. Apart from this, the MEA had also taken a further step – to rope in India Post – and it’s humungous network of Post Offices – into the Passport Seva matrix.
One of the MEA’s eternal dilemmas has been figuring out an efficient way to reach out to the remoter areas of the country and the populations inhabiting them, since the distance people have to travel in order to obtain a passport in some cases is more than 500-700 kms. This had created enormous difficulties and a huge wastage of time, energy and resources, and the Camps/Melas initiated by the MEA proved to serve but a limited purpose. So, just recently, under the stewardship of Smt. Sushma Swaraj and Gen. VK Singh – our present Union Minister and Minister of State for External Affairs, a fruitful dialogue was initiated with the Department of Posts. After deliberations lasting several months, it has now been decided that Post Offices could be used for rendering Passport services. On 24th January, 2017, an announcement to this effect was made, and on 25th January itself, on the very next day, two Pilot Projects were kicked-off at Dahod in Gujarat and Mysuru in Karnataka. These Pilot Projects have since proven successful and the Hon’ble Minister of External Affairs has now announced a total of 86 Post Office PSKs across the length and breadth of the country. This has been enthusiastically received by the public as well as various State Governments.
All these have indeed turned out to be new milestones on MEA’s road toward offering people-centric passport services. When we queried the Secretary DOIA about his own personal impressions on how this whole exercise to benefit the common man has been, he said: “I am personally very happy to have been associated with this phase of transformation that will change the very idea of having a passport in India. Every Indian can now get a passport and we have provided easy access to this facility. Hon’ble External Affairs Minister, Smt. Sushma Swaraj, personally monitors the service being provided to the Indian public, both within the country and abroad. Constant review goes on to improve various schemes and services. This will all continue. We are currently opening new offices throughout India and there is no greater satisfaction than to see that almost every day we are opening a new centre in some remote corner of India.