How colours matter in Indian passports
The decision to roll out a new orange-coloured passport was announced on January 12 on the basis of a recommendation by am MEA committee and the Ministry of Women and Child Development.
CHENNAI: After facing objections from both political parties and civil society, the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) on Tuesday scrapped its decision to introduce orange-coloured passports to those with Emigration Check Required (ECR) status and non-inclusion of the last page which carries personal details of an individual.
The statement from MEA read: “At a meeting chaired by External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj on January 29, 2018, in the presence of General (retd) V K Singh, Minister of State for External Affairs, the decision of the MEA on both these issues was reviewed in the light of these representations. After comprehensive discussions with various stakeholders, MEA has decided to continue with the current practice of printing of the last page of the passport and not to issue a separate passport with orange-coloured jacket to ECR passport holders.”
Types of Indian passports
The government of India currently issues passports in three colours. Individuals representing the Indian government on official business carry white passports. Indian diplomats, top-ranking government officials (joint secretary and above) and diplomatic couriers carry red passports. The rest are issued a regular navy blue passport.
Why did the government decide to introduce orange-coloured passports?
The decision to roll out a new orange-coloured passport was announced on January 12 on the basis of a recommendation by a three-member committee of officials of MEA and the Ministry of Women and Child Development.
The committee had noted instances of mothers/children insisting that the name of the father not be mentioned in the passport, and passport issues relating to children with single parents and adopted children. Following this, it was decided to scrap the last page of the passport which includes the name of the holder’s father, mother or spouse, his/her address, old passport number and ECR status.
The present regular blue passports have two categories: one in which emigration checks are required and the other not. Since it was decided that the last page of the passport, which carries this information, would not be printed any more, a new coloured passport to distinguish between passport holders with Emigration Check Required (ECR) status and Emigration Check Not Required (ECNR) status needed to be introduced.
The orange-coloured jacket passport would have been for those with ECR status.
What’s the difference between ECR and ECNR status?
Citizens who do not have secondary education and intend taking up employment in one of the 18 countries listed by the Ministry of Home Affairs fall in the category of ECR. These countries include United Arab Emirates (UAE), Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Oman, Kuwait, Bahrain, Malaysia, Libya, Jordan, Yemen, Sudan, Afghanistan, Indonesia, Syria, Lebanon and Thailand.
While those including income taxpayers, persons below 18 and above 50 years and all persons having an educational qualification of 10th standard (SSC, Matriculation) or above have ECNR status.
What invited criticism?
The two points — scrapping of the last page and introduction of an orange-coloured passport for those with ECR status invited sharp criticism from several quarters including the opposition parties.
Congress president Rahul Gandhi took to Twitter and argued that the move would lead to discrimination against India's migrant workers who would be treated like second-class citizens. "This action demonstrates the BJP's discriminatory mindset," he said.
In addition, the Kerala High Court on January 29 served notice on the Centre following a public interest litigation (PIL) which said the decision to introduce orange-coloured passports for unskilled workers violated the fundamental right to privacy and dignity.
“The move is targeting migrant workers to the Middle Eastern countries. To make their underprivileged status known publicly through a separate colour code is a grave invasion of their fundamental right to privacy and dignity. There is no rational objective to be achieved through this segregation,” said the petition.
Additionally, with printing of passports without the last page meant that a passport would no longer serve as address proof in future.
It was said that “the decision to keep the last page of the passport blank was made to protect the citizen.”
On the contrary, an article in Saudi Gazette pointed out that the address proof page is crucial “in order to establish the identity of Indian workers, especially in death cases in remote areas”.
“Without approaching Indian diplomatic missions, based on the address page in the employees’ passport, the employers and community workers could reach out to families of deceased workers, also inform them about unconscious sick workers in their care. However, with the new rule the basic contact point would disappear and would leave the employers or community workers with a Herculean and extremely difficult task of reverting to the missions to ascertain the address and immediate family,” it read.