Tata Consultancy, government pact on new passport service (Second Lead)

October 13th, 2008 - 8:19 pm ICT by IANS  

New Delhi, Oct 13 (IANS) A new passport in three days - that’s the dream being peddled by the external affairs ministry and software giant Tata Consultancy Services as they Monday announced a major passport services initiative in the country.TCS and the government Monday signed the master services agreement for the Passport Seva project, perhaps the largest ever e-governance project valued at Rs.1 billion.

“Last year, we issued five million passports. Due to accelerating demand, the ministry estimates that it will issue 10 million passports in 2011,” Foreign Secretary Shivshankar Menon said at the signing ceremony.

It is estimated that only about 3.5 percent of the population are passport-holders.

Menon said even though the ministry has been trying to improve the system for several years, it was felt that there was a “need for a quantum jump” in the quality of services.

Under the Passport Seva project, 77 passport centres will be started in the country increasing the number of counters from 345 to 1,250.

“The security level that will be maintained in the Passport Seva project is considerably higher than in several other countries,” Menon said.

The deal was inked by the ministry’s joint secretary, R. Swaminathan and TCS vice president and head of government-industry solutions unit, Tanmoy Chakrabarty.

The contract was signed almost three months after the ministry of external affairs had issued the letter of intent to TCS July 23, adjudging it the “best value bidder” among eight companies for the project.

The Passport Seva project began as one of the 27 Mission Mode Projects listed in the national e-governance plan.

The ambitious e-governance project aims, among other objectives, to issue a new passport within three days, if there was no verification required by the police. Under the Tatkal scheme, passports will be issued the same day an application is made.

The project will be first initiated as a pilot project in Bangalore and Chandigarh from March 2009. The entire country will be brought under its blueprint by January 2010.

The cabinet in September last year approved the seven-point plan, which includes turning the current 37 regional passport offices into back-end offices.

It also envisages floating a special purpose vehicle for “management, supervision and monitoring of the project”.

The tender for the project was floated last October on the basis of a report by the Hyderabad-based National Institute for Smart Government - a non-profit organisation dedicated to spreading e-governance in India.

The ministry had been careful to praise the role of government employees for their acquiescence to the project, with the foreign secretary describing them as a “key asset”.

Top ministry officials had been in intense negotiations with the employees union in the run-up to the tender process to convince them into allowing the project.

In fact, under the new project, the employees will qualify to earn incentives up to 35 percent of their gross pay.

Further, the climb on the promotional ladder will be much faster. “We hope to award promotion to nearly 1,000 employees by November,” said a senior external affairs ministry official.

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