Even though the Ministry of External Affairs claims to have successfully implemented the Passport Seva project across the country, it has left out over 180 Indian missions and consulates from its ambit, which could pose potential security risks.
The ministry had in 2010 launched the project as a panacea to the perennial problems of touts and delays in issuing the essential travel document.
A database known as the Passport-Related Information Data Exchange, the backbone of the project, and the front-end of passport offices are operated by IT major Tata Consultancy Services. However, at the embassies and consulates, the passport services are still run on the old software provided by the National Informatics Centre (NIC).
“We should be having an integrated system for running passport services, but right now there are two parallel systems within the ministry,” said an official.
The two software systems have no direct link between each other, which has raised concerns that there may be security loopholes in the process of issuing passports at the missions.
“The missions only have a desktop access to the databases which allow them to check for individual entries, after giving specific inputs,” he said.
On receiving an application, say for issuing a duplicate passport, the passport issuing authority has to manually check the database, before granting the request.
“If there had been an integrated system, the application would have been checked automatically with the database to find out any discrepancies. Now, there is always scope for human errors, which could be compounded owing to the sensitivity of the passport issuances,” said the senior official.
Around five lakh passports are issued by Indian embassies and posts worldwide, mostly as replacements for lost, stolen or damaged ones. There are only a very small number of new passport applications submitted outside the country, which are mainly for newborns.
Interestingly, thanks to the delay in getting online appointments from some Passport Seva Kendras, some prefer to apply for passport renewals at the missions, where it is a walk-in service.
The linkage problem came to the notice of the Parliamentary Standing Committee on External Affairs, which in its latest report voiced its concerns. It had directed the ministry to prepare a “dedicated action plan and implement it within a fixed time frame for establishing connectivity between the headquarters and missions/posts”.
But, according to officials, bringing the missions and posts inside the Passport Seva project’s ambit is easier said than done.