//MEA wants easier passport norms; plans e-passport

MEA wants easier passport norms; plans e-passport

By Liz Mathew,
New Delhi, June 11 (IANS) If India's external affairs ministry has its way, a police check will not be required for issuing a passports to certain categories of people, while by 2013, the travel document will go electronic for everyone.

The home ministry, however, has its reservations on the verification issue, citing security concerns.

"The MEA (ministry of external affairs) wants to simplify the process of obtaining a passport. We have suggested the police verification be done away for some categories," Minister of State for External Affairs E. Ahamed told IANS.

"The home ministry has its own concerns because of the sensitiveness of the issue. But we suggested that we can avoid unnecessary delay in issuing passports for students or employees of reputed organisations if they produce a certificate from their institutions," Ahamed explained.

He pointed out that his ministry had been receiving several complaints of "unnecessary delay" and harassment by police in the verification process.

"In cities, and for the labour class, remaining at home waiting for the policeman to come for verification is simply impossible," he explained, adding that there had also been complaints of corruption and bribery.

"There have been many complaints of harassment, especially from the weaker and minority sections," Ahamed said. "In states like Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, police verification takes a lot of time."

However, he admitted that avoiding police verification completely would be impossible. "We want to exempt certain criteria where we can avoid police verification. I know there should be a middle path and we need to address the security concerns too," he said.

The MEA decided to adopt the 'identity-based passport issuing system' instead of the 'local identity system' under which the police verifies whether or not an applicant resides at the address furnished in the application form.

The minister said the government was seriously considering issuing e-passports, which would bolster the issuing process by providing further safeguards against fraudulent applications.

"Almost all the developed countries have introduced e-passports. We will soon initiate the process," Ahamed said.

Pointing out that issuing e-passport is a "long process" he said the government would introduce it "stage by stage".

"In the first stage, we will try to provide e-passport to diplomats and officials and by 2013 all the passport holders should have e-passports," he told IANS.

An e-passport has a microchip that contains the digitised facial image and personal details of the holder as it appears on the data page. The microchip can be read electronically.

"This will help the identity verification and security, providing a much stronger connection between the individual and his or her identity than the existing system which rely solely on visual identification," Ahamed pointed out.