India’s Minister of State for External Affairs Gen. V.K. Singh launched the ‘Passport Seva Service’, a new initiative to streamline passport delivery services to Indian citizens living in the United States, with inaugurations in New York, Washington, D.C. and Atlanta, Georgia, last week. The program will be launched at Indian consulates in Houston, Chicago and San Francisco in the next two weeks.
The Ministry of External Affairs has over the years taken many significant steps to improve the delivery of passport related services. The ‘Passport Rules’ for one, has been simplified to a large extent. The passport services have also been taken closer to the doorsteps of citizens.
In India, the Ministry of External Affairs together with the Department of Posts took the decision to start Passport Seva Kendras in Head Post Offices as well. As a result, 236 Post Office Passport Seva Kendras are in operation and many more are in the pipeline. This, when added to 36 Passport Offices and 93 erstwhile Passport Seva Kendras makes a total of 365 Passport Offices available for the public, according to a statement by the government.
The Passport Seva Program since its inception has brought huge transformation towards delivery of passport services in India. The ministry also initiated the integration of Passport Seva Program at all Indian embassies and consulates across the globe.
As part of this initiative, the ministry successfully initiated the pilot program at the High Commission of India, London, followed by the Consulate General of India in Birmingham and in Edinburgh. The Government of India plans to roll out the Global Passport Seva Program at all Embassies/ Consulates globally within the next three-to-four months, according to a press release.
Singh inaugurated the Passport Seva Service at the Consulate General of India in New York on November 21. Over the weekend, he launched it also at the Embassy of India in Washington, DC, and at the Consulate General of India in Atlanta.
Singh also attended a community reception for him at the TV Asia studios in Edison, New Jersey, where he talked about the new service. Present at the meet were several prominent community leaders, including Padma Shri Dr. Sudhir Parikh, the Founder and Chairman of Parikh Worldwide Media, Padma Shri H R Shah, the founder of TV Asia, and Ramesh Patel of the FIA-Tristate area.
Singh explained that apart from significant reduction in time to process a passport, there will be more efficient digital verification process. The service will also provide enhanced tracking facilities, apart from new security features.
In Washington, Singh handed over passports processed under the new project to five Indians, including two children, with the Indian Ambassador to the US Navtej Sarna looking on. He did the same to families in New York.
Addressing a gathering after launching the ‘Passport Seva’ project at the Indian Embassy in Washington on Saturday, Singh said the passport offices at Indian missions have been digitally linked with the data centers In India, which would speed up the process of issuing passport.
Earlier this week, the Indian mission at New York issued passports in less than 48 hours. “This is going to happen across the world,” Singh said, handing over passports issued under the new project to citizens abroad, reported PTI.
Asserting that in the coming days India will have the best passport services in the world, the minister said there has been a major simplification of rules and regulations for passport applicants and verification of a lot of information of the applicants would be done digitally.
“This is actually going to quantitatively and qualitatively improve our passport services immensely, both in the scope of the applications that can be handled and also in the way they will be handled and the way they will be integrated into the overall much better consular services,” said Sarna, speaking at the launch, in Washington, D.C.
The minister said in the next few months, the Indian government will issue a new set of passports, the design of which has already been approved.
The new passports will have all kinds of security features and better printing and paper quality, Singh said. However, “there will be no change in the color of the Indian passport,” he clarified.
Speaking at the inauguration in New York, Singh said the “Passport Seva was in the government corridor for a long time and only the current government has let it happen.”
He added that Prime Minister Narendra Modi has got “a vision” and “big ideas”.
“He has got the capability to take decisions and that is what has helped in bringing the idea of Digital India, and Passport Seva is a part of that. One of the things that the prime minister has emphasized is ‘maximum governance, minimum government’ and Passport Seva is that. We have decentralized it. We have taken it down right to the post offices, we have made things simpler and you do not see something like this in any other governmental department,” Singh said.
The Deputy Consul General of India in New York Shatrughna Sinha, speaking at the launch, said that it is “a historic occasion”.
“The mission interpretation of the passport services with the Passport Seva Program was much needed. I myself have served as a passport officer and in many cases for people belonging to the Indian diaspora and living abroad for many years, whenever they used to apply for a passport, there would be ordinate delays sometimes because document verification would be delayed, sometimes police verification would be delayed and these delays would be eliminated,” Sinha said.
“Many people come here on a work visa and they stay here for a long time and after getting many visa extensions, the visas may be valid but the passports become invalid so they come to India for the renewal of their passports. With the Passport Seva Program, they don’t even have to do that anymore,” Sinha explained.
Rajesh Dogra, Project Director of the Passport Seva Program, explained that it is an iconic program.
“It is a huge transformational program which has really changed the way passport services are delivered to the citizens of India and TCS is very proud to be associated with this path breaking project of the Government of India. We signed the contract in the year 2008, completed the roll out in 2012 and in the last four to five years we have seen a huge change in the way in which passport services have evolved primarily because of the government’s intention to be more citizen centric with changes in the process, as well as changes in the rules or easing out the rules so that a common person can just walk to the passport office and obtain a passport,” Dogra said.
“This program has helped to demystify the passport services in India and TCS has been partner of ministry right from Day 1. We have set up 77 Passport Seva kendras, along with a call center, the entire system application, which we have developed now, and also the changes in applying for a passport, including an app,” Dogra added. “The program gets a 99.5 percent excellent rating from all of the citizens who use it on a day to day basis in India.”