6 post offices have been identified for the pilot stage, reports Shivani Shinde Nadhe.Business Standard.
The ministry of external affairs (MEA) is planning to utilise the infrastructure of India Post to expand its passport application and delivery services.
It has also extended its contract with Tata Consultancy Services to manage its Passport Seva Kendras for two more years.
TCS will manage the centres till 2020, as its initial contract from 2012 was for six years.
The expanded services will include capturing real-time data from overseas applicants.
Confirming the extension of the contract, Arun Chatterjee, joint secretary and chief passport officer, said, "We want to use the postal department for the delivery of passport services. The idea is to use post offices for the processing and delivery of passport applications like it is done at the Passport Seva Kendras now."
"We will be able to use the existing infrastructure of post offices," Chatterjee said. "The pilot centres will test the operations and if successful we will start replicating it."
The MEA has identified six head post offices -- Patiala (Punjab), Delhi, Ghazipur (Uttar Pradesh), Bhuj (Gujarat), Aurangabad (Maharashtra), and Cuddapah (Andhra Pradesh) -- for the pilot stage.
India Post has over 800 head post offices.
Chatterjee said if these were brought into the system, it will give the MEA good coverage area for its services to reach the far-flung areas of the country.
"We have been working on this project for a month, both MEA and India Post are working out the modalities for implementing the project," added Chatterjee.
One benefit of enlisting the help of the postal department employees was that they were government employees and could be used for the verification process. They would also need to be trained.
There was a shortage in the number of employees for granting and verifying passports.
TCS officials confirmed they would be helping out with the technical aspect of the new project.
"Like the PSK counters, these would also be managed by TCS employees at post offices," said Shalini Mathur, project director, passport seva project, TCS.
At present, MEA has 89 Passport Kendras.
Of this, 77 are managed wholly by TCS and are called Passport Seva Kendras.
The MEA manages 12 Passport Laghu Kendras.
Seven more are to be added to the total -- four by March 31, 2017.
The passport automation project has been implemented on a buy-own-operate-transfer (BOOT) framework, with TCS providing the back-end support and also managing the front-end, with only verification and granting being handled by the passport officials.
Chatterjee said the other big expansion plan was for the overseas applications received from various Indian embassies.
"We receive 2.2 to 2.5 million application for passports that are handled by our embassies and consulates across the globe. Currently, the applications are not received directly onto the Passport Seva system. TCS will have the responsibility of integrating all the embassies and consulates into the Passport Seva system," added Chatterjee.
India has about 180 missions. Each mission has its own system to process the applications received. Some send documents by post, while others use third party services.
"With the Passport Seva project, the process of application has been streamlined. This is being applied overseas too. Earlier, the data used to come in weekly or fortnightly. Now, it will be updated in real time," said TCS' Mathur.
TCS will work with the missions in a phased manner.
"In the next six months," Mathur added, "a few missions will come onto the system before we look for a final roll-out."
IMAGE: People at the Regional Passport Office in New Delhi. Photograph: Adnan Abidi/Reuters