The indefinite wait for the start of the Passport Seva Project – an e-project for faster delivery of passports – has got another sting in its tale. The employees have now done a U-turn and asked for a “review” of the Rs.1,000-crore project outsourced to Tata Consultancy Services (TCS).
“We are of the opinion that there is a need to review afresh the whole project,” said a letter from the All India Passport Employees Association (AIPEA) to Minister of State for External Affairs Shashi Tharoor.
The Passport Seva Project is an e-governance project of the Indian government which is supposed to streamline and bring efficiency in the process of distribution of passports.
The contract for implementing the project, worth Rs.1,000 crore (Rs.10 billion or $21.4 million) was given to information technology major Tata Consultancy Services in October 2008, with an implementation timeline from June.
Since then, there have been multiple deadlines – in October and November. But the project is yet to take off as TCS has been unable to provide fool-proof software.
Incidentally, AIPEA had earlier reached an agreement with the ministry before the contract was signed with TCS in 2008 for starting the project – after long overdue promotions were given to a large number of employees.
The association consists of 2,400 employees located at regional passport offices around the country. Incidentally, there has been a freeze on the recruitment of new employees, despite the number of passports processed doubling in the last seven years.
The association raised its disquiet about the status of the project in September this year, following which a committee was formed, which included ministry officials and union representatives.
The committee, which met in mid-October, has not been able to convince the association leaders about their “crucial” role in the Passport Seva Kendras, with the latter insisting that a passport employee should be at the front-end of operations.
According to plans, TCS employees will be the face of the Passport Seva Kendras, while the ministry employees are to remain behind the scenes, handling all the sensitive processes.
A group of employees was taken Oct 28 to visit the Passport Seva Kendra in Bangalore, which will be the location of the pilot project. The entire civil works for the centre has been completed.
After the visit, the staff said they were even more dissatisfied with TCS.
“We regret that Tata could not show the testing to the committee because of some technical problems and it was assured that testing shall be shown next week. Now more than four weeks have gone, but the testing has not been shown to the committee till date,” said the letter written by the AIPEA.
The Department of Information Technology’s Standardization Testing and Quality Certification is doing the third party audit of TCS’ software and has reportedly found innumerable ‘bugs’.
The ministry of external affairs (MEA) had told the the Parliamentary Standing Committee on External Affairs that as the software development was an “external dependency”, it could not give a firm date for launching the project. The Standing Committee had taken had meanwhile pulled up the ministry for not starting the Passport Seva project, despite previous assurances.
Earlier this month, Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao visited the Bangalore office to inspect the progress. “The bugs are there in the computability of the new software in taking information from earlier database. Also, there are numerous discrepancies noticed when the information collected moves from one stage to another,” said a senior
Staff employees will be given ‘digital signatures’, which they will use to authorise and check the more secure processes in the passport system. While employees in Bangalore have applied for the ‘digital signature’, AIPEA officials said the staff in the rest of the country would resist the move.
TCS has said the project will begin in January-end. But officials in the foreign ministry have their fingers crossed.