House Panel Flays MEA for Loopholes in Passport Project
A Parliamentary Standing Committee has criticised the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) for not taking adequate measures to root out corrupt practices and touts from the passport seva project, while stating that there were “more opportunities” for harassing applicants in the “new system”.
The Standing Committee on the External Affairs had undertaken a comprehensive study of the passport seva project, the ministry’s passport issuance system done with the help of the private IT major Tata Consultancy Services.
The panel in its report submitted to Parliament last week, observed “unauthorized touts/agents are still active in the new system and are taking the advantage of the difficulties being faced by the applicants at each stage of the process”.
“Under the new system, there are more opportunities for such elements to harass the applicants,” asserted the report, talking about advertisements emblazoned across various forms of media offering ‘services’ for expediting the passport application.
“The ministry had told the panel during the hearings that while it was aware of the advertisements, it had “scarce resources”, which could not be used to pursue matters with the police, pointing out that prominent notices were put out to caution public against dealing with the touts.
But, this was not enough for the panel.
“The Committee is not satisfied with the information furnished by the ministry about the measures undertaken to mitigate the situation,” it said.
Similarly, there were also doubts raised about the ministry taking adequate steps to address malpractice in police, department of post and also the private service providers.
In fact, the committee put special “stress upon the need for verification of the antecedents of the employees of the Service Provider who are attached with the Passport Seva Project and conduct regular checks to ensure that these officials and officials from the Ministry of External Affairs/RPO are not involved in nefarious activities”.
The ministry, in fact, revealed that five TCS employees were found to have been involved in “corrupt practice”. “Out of these five, four were suspended pending enquiry and subsequently left on expiry of their employment contract with TCS and one was transferred out. All the five have been charged by the state police. The case is sub judice,” the minister told the committee.
Since the start of the PSP’s pilot stage, 25 passport officials have been indicted on corruption charges. “Ten cases were filed by CBI, 5 by State Police, 7 were Departmental cases and 3 were by CBI and Department both,” said the ministry.
Incidentally, the MEA had admitted failure to get online appointments was one of the loopholes used by touts.