The central government is going to issue an E-passport to all those citizens who are applying for a new travel document or are applying for re-issuance of their expiring booklet. A top official of the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) announced this effect. E-passports are fast becoming a global norm – they facilitate easy international travel and speed up processing at immigration counters.
India is the world’s largest passport issuer
Over 12.8 million passports were issued in 2019 by Passport Issuing Authorities (PIAs) in India and abroad, making India the largest passport issuer globally after China and the United States.
As a part of the global outreach, the Ministry of External Affairs has integrated passport issuance systems in 70 foreign missions and posts, which account for more than 95 per cent of passports issued abroad.
What exactly is the proposed new ePassport?
Currently, passports issued to Indian citizens are printed on booklets. The government wants to upgrade them to the international standards set by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO).
Each country has a different digital signature
It has two processes. The first are e-passports, which add a layer of security to traditional non-electronic passports by embedding an electronic chip in the passport booklet. It stores a digital security feature along with the biographical information visible on page 2 of the passport. This digital security feature is a ‘digital signature’ unique to each country and can be verified using their respective certificates.
Diplomats have been issued E-passports
India had issued 20,000 official and diplomatic E-passports on a trial basis, which were fitted with an electronic microprocessor chip. The Ministry of External Affairs is working with Indian Security Press in Nashik and National Informatics Center on chip-enabled E-passports with advanced security facilities. The second plan is to introduce a fully digital passport which can also be carried on a mobile phone.
Do other countries use them?
According to ICAO, more than 100 state and non-state entities such as the United Nations currently issue E-passports. There are over 490 million e-passports in circulation. In India’s neighbourhood, Nepal began its process of issuing E-passports to citizens in November 2021. Bangladesh has phased out the issuance of old passports in favour of E-passports.
In E-passports issued by some countries, machine-readable data usually scanned through a barcode, has now been transferred directly to the polycarbonate paper that forms the page of the passport booklet.
According to Pune-based Allied Market Research, the global e-passport market size is expected to grow from $20.9 billion in 2020 to $97.6 billion by 2027, compound annual growth of 27.5 per cent from 2021 to 2027.
What are the benefits of an E-passport?
The security of E-passport travel documents will also be significantly improved. The move is to make counterfeiting of passports difficult and help in faster processing at immigration counters for passengers. These E-passports will be based on ICAO standards.
Enhanced security features will make passports more acceptable by a wider list of countries that are already using these features. As a result, the number of countries one can access with an Indian passport without a prior visa can also increase.
The Indian passport is ranked 90th in the ranking
According to the 2021 Henley Passport Index, ranking all passports in the world their holders can access without a prior visa, the Indian passport is ranked 90th globally in terms of its strength.
Despite being a major geopolitical power, India’s ranking has dropped from 74 in 2013. Indians can currently access 58 countries without a prior visa, opting for a visa on arrival or other systems such as electronic travel authorization in Sri Lanka.
The total time required for the issuance of a passport has also been fixed at a minimum. This process has been designed to reduce the existing delay in police verification by ensuring that the information is passed electronically through a centralized database that will be linked to all concerned officers.
Why is the government trying to promote digitization?
The move is also part of the Centre’s efforts to digitize government services. As per the Ministry of External Affairs data, at present, the total number of Passport Kendra’s functioning in the country is 517, which includes six Regional Passport Offices, 93 Passport Seva Kendras and 424 Post Office Passport Seva Kendras. Despite this, a huge gap exists in large parts of the country being out of reach of the people.
One has to travel hundreds of kilometers to reach the Passport Kendra.
With the increase in the number of blue and white workers going abroad for employment, the problem of low access to passport services has reached serious proportions. As a result, the government is going to open a Post Office Passport Seva Kendra in each Lok Sabha constituency. But the plan was shelved in favour of promoting online services.
To address this, the government has launched the M Passport Seva App, through which users can directly access all passport related services from applying for a passport to scheduling appointments and entering changes. Similarly, M Passport Police App has been launched for police personnel who are part of background check and field verification teams.
When will it be launched?
The idea of upgrading the features and looks of India’s physical passport has been around for a long time. In 2016, the then Minister of State for External Affairs VK Singh had said that chip-embedded e-passports would be introduced in early 2017. The initiative missed several deadlines. In June 2020, External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar said that the procurement process for the production of chip-based passports was underway. He also said that the process needs to be expedited.