Pilot passport project to be launched in two cities

August 17th, 2008 - 4:13 pm ICT by IANS  

By Devirupa Mitra
New Delhi, Aug 17 (IANS) Software major Tata Consultancy Services (TCS) will launch a pilot project for the ambitious Passport Seva Project - a public-private initiative to improve passport services - in two cities shortly, an official said. The ministry of external affairs July 23 had issued the letter of intent to TCS after it was adjudged the “best value bidder” for the project, which is speculated to be worth Rs.10-15 billion.

According to the official, who is connected with the project, while the formal contract was yet to be signed, work has already begun on the ambitious e-governance project, which aims, among other objectives, to issue a new passport within three days and shorten queue time.

Currently, it takes more than 30 days to issue a new passport - sometimes it takes anything between six to nine months.

“We are planning to first implement a pilot project in a couple of locations first,” the official said.

The pilot project is expected to run for about eight months. “Tentatively, we have chosen Bangalore and Chandigarh for the pilot project,” he said.

After eight months of implementation, there will be three months of “testing” to evaluate the system. The entire system has to be operational within 19 months of the contract being signed.

Both the external affairs ministry and TCS have kept a low profile, with neither publicising the decision of the committee overseeing the bids.

The two are currently vetting the contract agreement, which may be signed in the next few weeks.

A TCS spokesperson declined to speak on the issue, saying: “We do not want to make any announcements now.”

There was also no response from the ministry’s consular, passport and visa division that oversees the network of regional passport offices across the country.

It has been a rough road for the project - with the principal opposition coming from the passport employee’s union and intelligence agencies, who argue that bringing in a private player could have serious implications for national security.

The government says only front-end and non-sensitive activities would be done by TCS, while all “sensitive aspects” from verification, approval and handling of blank passport booklets will remain with government employees.

The union also claims that despite a cap on new recruitment, passport employees were able to cope with the sharp rise in passport applications every year, and that there was no need for private operators.

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

The Union cabinet approved the seven point plan last September, which included turning the current 36 regional passport offices into back-end offices and a private service provider setting up 68 facilitation 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 to spread e-governance in India.

While there had been several queries, only eight companies submitted bids, which were opened this April. The techno-commercial evaluation of the bids then zeroed in on TCS as the “best value bidder”.

In return for better services, the private service provider will charge a fee of about Rs.200 for each transaction.

Within eight years, the number of passports issued will be tripled from 2.2 million in 2000 to six million in 2008.

There had been several rounds of negotiations over the past nine months between the employees’ union and senior ministry officials.

A union leader said a representation has already been given to the ministry.

“We are waiting for the announcement (of the contract) to decide the next step,” he told IANS.

He denied any “deal” had been reached to allow the project to go ahead.

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