You all know that in collaboration with the Department of Posts, we embarked on really a very transformational initiative, which has allowed us in the last three years to open 424 Post Office Passport Seva Kendras (POPSKs). Out of these, 12 were actually inaugurated in the first 100 days of this government and I myself, like Muralidharan ji, had the privilege of inaugurating one of the POPSKs, in my case it was at Rajpipla in Gujarat.
Now, you know that we intend to open up our POPSK in every Lok Sabha constituency where no PSK exist(s) today, and we have so far been able to provide for 488 Lok Sabha constituencies. Now, obviously that process, which we were going forward very ambitiously, has stopped momentarily on account of the Covid-19 pandemic, but both our ministries are completing the formalities for early inauguration of POPSKs, which have already been announced and I’m sure we will go forward as the lockdown eases up.
Now, where our global outreach is concerned, we have again — everybody spoken about it — looked at the process of integrating Indian Missions and Posts abroad into the Passport Seva programme, I want to emphasise here that we must have definitive timelines to complete this inauguration of all the Missions and Posts, so that we have actually a centralised passport issuance system and Indian citizens living abroad, traveling abroad, are benefited by a seamless system, which we will operate.
Now, we also need to leverage the use of technology in a bigger and better way for the delivery of passport and related services. We should make full use of the all the tools that are much more digital, that government is today willing to place at our disposal, the “mPassportSeva” mobile app, the “mPassport Police” mobile app and the “Applying for Passports Anywhere” scheme, actually shows us all how well technology can be used in this domain... I don’t have to tell you, you are the people who actually get this done, but it is important for people to really appreciate today that “mPassportSeva” mobile app, for example, can make a huge difference in terms of how to apply for passports, pay the fees, schedule an appointment, and we have started the process of sending information on appointments through SMSs and emails to applicant, and you know, a lot of people, I’ve met, who really find that this makes it so much more convenient for them to follow up on their passport application.
Also the electronic token issuance upon arrival and the electronic exit letter after completion of service, are examples of providing paperless service, protecting the environment, and in a sense... implementing Digital India... in a very green manner. Certainly, such seamless processes have not only helped service delivery, but they have reduced public grievances...
The “Applying for Passports from Anywhere” scheme has helped applicants to obviously go to any Passport Seva Kendra, even if they are not in that jurisdiction and that again has, I think, been very very widely appreciated by the public. We have taken important initiatives in the last few years for the simplification of passport rules, and I think really, probably the most notable reform that we have brought about is that those applying for a passport under the ‘tatkal scheme’ are no longer required to submit a verification certificate from a gazetted officer, and of course self-attested documents are accepted. We have reduced the number of documents and we have eased the passport issuance process for minors, for minors with single parents and for people, for applicants who are separated or divorced.
And here the point, I wish to emphasise is that, real reform — ...on the ground — is about small things: it is about detail, it is about making a difference, sometimes it can be something very small, but, what I want to emphasise today, is for the recipient, it means much more than we can ever imagine. Now, we have commenced sending SMSs to passport holders before the expiry of their passport and this is again a citizen-friendly initiative and a proactive service delivery measure. These initiatives have been made to benefit citizens, I think citizens know it, they appreciate it, and our focus must be particularly, I think, I would like all of you to think about it, how do we keep simplifying the rules and processes without compromising the legitimate security concerns, I think this is at the heart of the reforms that we have done, and I think there are still reforms that need to be done, in the domain of passport issuance.
Now, I really don’t need to emphasise the important role that state police authorities play in the timely delivery of passports. I would add my voice to the congratulations that MoS extended to states like Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, and Haryana who have done very well in this regard. I congratulate the police authorities of these states in particular.
The focus of our government has been to increase the use of technology and digitisation and one important step is the introduction of chip-enabled e-Passports... with advanced security features... We are working with Indian Security Press Nashik... and with NIC... I am very confident that the introduction of e-Passports will greatly strengthen the security of our travel documents and I understand that the procurement process for its production is currently underway. And again, I would emphasise the need to hasten that, as much as possible.
Let me also compliment, especially the officials of the Central Passport Organisation, all our passport officers, our Missions and Posts abroad, because it is their collective efforts which have today ensured that we’ve been issuing 1 crore plus passports, year after year, in the last few years. ...I do want today to recognise and comment your diligence, your dedication, your commitment towards public service and I would say..., there are many examples of it, but certainly how you responded to the reopening challenge after the coronavirus(-induced lockdown), is just one more proof...
I would also like to acknowledge and applaud the cooperation we’ve received from our service provider, Tata Consultancy Services...
Edited excerpts from the keynote address by External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar on Passport Seva Divas 2020, June 24 in New Delhi