Air travel is set to become less of a hassle and more passenger-friendly with the introduction of e-passports in India. The Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) has plans to issue new e-passports that will come equipped with radio-frequency identification (RFID) and biometric data of the holder. These technological features and advancements will make passport duplication harder, eliminate data tampering, and significantly reduce airport queue wait times.
These new safety features are significant for India, who is the third-highest issuer of passports globally, just behind China and the US. The Passport Issuing Authorities (PIA) in India issued 12.8 million passports in 2019. Soon, any Indian citizen applying for a new passport or renewing their expiring passport will be issued an e-passport.
What is an E-Passport?
The passports currently issued to Indian citizens are printed on booklets. The MEA wants to embed an electronic chip on these passports, which will contain essential security data. This will act as an additional layer of security on top of the existing traditional passports. This chip will also contain a digital signature that will be unique to each country, and can be easily verified using that particular country’s certificate. The chip will also come with an internationally recognised logo meant for e-passports. This chip will upgrade the existing booklet passports and bring them in line with the international standards that the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) has set.
The software for the e-passports has been developed by IIT Kanpur in conjunction with the National Informatics Centre (NIC); NIC is the technology partner of the Government of India.
These new e-passports are currently in the testing phase, with 20,000 passports handed out to diplomats and officials for trials.
With a view to manufacture e-passports post the completion of these trials, the Government of India has given its approval to the India Security Press (ISP) in Nashik. ISP will procure International Civil Aviation Organization-compliant electronic contactless inlays, as well as the operating system necessary for chip-enabled e-passports.
Features of the Indian E-Passport:
Benefits of the Indian E-Passport:
Passport Seva Project
This overhaul of India’s passport system is a part of phase two of the Passport Seva Project (PSP-V2.0). The Passport Seva Project (PSP-V1.0) was launched by the MEA in May 2010. The main aim of this project was to improve the quality of passport services provided to citizens across the country. PSP-V2.0 is the expansion and improvement of the first version of the project. This new version wants to create a digital ecosystem that is transparent, easily accessible and reliable for all people, supported by a well-trained customer service workforce. This project also aims to seamlessly integrate all the different wings of the government involved in issuing passports into this digital ecosystem.
MEA states that this project is a Public Private Partnership (PPP) with Tata Consultancy Services (TCS). However, the External Affairs Ministry retains core functions like the verification and issuing of passports, and ownership of the data of Indian citizens. Under this PSP-V2.0 partnership, worth approximately US$ 1 billion, TCS is tasked with procuring the technological components necessary to bring e-passports to India, as well as providing support functions such as running call centres, training the workforce and change management.
Procedure to apply for E-Passport:
To prevent any confusion, the Ministry of External Affairs has clarified that when e-passports start getting issued, the process of applying for one will be the same as the process for a regular passport. The e-passport registration process and the documents required (such as address proof, Annexure E, etc.) will be the same as well. The issuance time will not be affected by the new passport system.
All 36 passport offices in India which come under the Ministry of External Affairs will issue e-passports.
The introduction of e-passports will have multiple benefits: vastly superior security, increased durability, precious time-save at airports and getting passports issued quicker. All of this will be achieved at no extra cost to the consumer, with the process of obtaining a passport also remaining unchanged.
Outside e-passports, the PSP-V2.0 project, which is being handled by TCS, will also bring other welcome changes to passport services. TCS aims to develop new solutions to enable the issuance of e-passports using technologies such as biometrics, artificial intelligence, advanced data analytics, chatbots, auto-response, natural language processing, and cloud enablement.
The MEA is not planning to stop after implementing e-passports - fully digital passports, one that a person can even carry on their smartphone, is one of the possibilities being considered for the future.