Passport in three days: project delayed yet again

The ministry of external affairs' (MEA) Passport Seva Project is estimated to cost over Rs.1 billion (Rs.100 crore). But almost a year after the government signed an agreement with IT major Tata Consultancy Services (TCS) to upgrade the system of preparing passports, the project is yet to get off the ground.

“It is a highly complicated project which requires everything to be right. Once the project starts, we cannot leave any scope for commotion or chaos,” an official, who did not want to be named as he is not authorised to speak to the media said.

After missing its deadline in June, the TCS had publicly announced that the pilot project in Bangalore and Chandigarh would start in October. It has, however, been learnt from reliable sources that the project launch has been postponed, with no new dates for its launch. As per the agreement, TCS is building the software and will operate the front-end of the passport 'seva kendras' (facilitation centres), but the back-end operations dealing with the “sensitive information” will remain in government hands.

Last week, a senior TCS official was quoted in the media as saying that the delay was due to setting up of a 'disaster recovery centre', which will have the back-up of all the passport records. The state-run Software Technology Park of India (STPI) will be running the back-up data centre for TCS in Chennai at a cost of Rs.30 million (Rs.3 crore) over a period of seven years.

Incidentally, the National Informatics Centre, which runs the current passport software, PISON (passport information service system on the net), has already given the data for
transfer of nearly 80 lakh passport records to TCS' new system.

But officials privy to the project say the main delay is due to the fact that TCS had not got its software ready. Apparently, there have been too many "alarming errors" in the software which is currently being tested. The errors had also been detected by the Department of Information Technology, whose subsidiaries do the technical audits of all government software.

"The errors, which occur at the basic level, are quite alarming," said another official.
Officials say the October launch date is too optimistic. "We don't know when it will be ready," he said.

The agreement between MEA and TCS has a provision for imposing penalty for delay in the start of the project. So far the ministry has not invoked this clause, the official said.

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