Common Services Centres (CSCs) across the country are set to be given more freedom and the power to help manage the passport process. These centres will be allowed to collect documents, photographs and other necessary details for passport issuance. What is more significant is that initial “non-police” verification will also be done by the Village Level Entrepreneurs (VLEs) who run the centres. The charges for this per applicant will be around `100. However, the CSCs will not be allowed to conduct biometric verification as it is a complex process and needs a highly secure system. The CSCs do not have a secure system or premises where the process can be carried out. Established in 2006, this CSCs run on the public-private partnership model. Local entrepreneurs set up the centres with basic connectivity and related infrastructure, operate them and are paid for every transaction undertaken. CSCs were established with the initial aim of offering government organisations a low-cost medium to deliver e-governance services to the rural population. The mandate was later widened to handle pension schemes and other financial activity as well.
Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) sources told that the necessary approval for managing passport kiosks in rural areas had already been given and the signing off on the formality completed at the official level. Sources said that top Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) officials were consulted in the process as the matter was related to security issues.
When contacted, the project manager for CSCs in Haryana, Prabhjot Singh, confirmed the step, saying that CSCs would soon start non-police verification for passports. “The police part of the verification cannot be done by us, so the responsibility involving other steps will be given to the existing centres,” he added.
With this fresh mandate, the CSCs will operate Passport Seva Kendra rural kiosks with more responsibilities and powers. “After the final touches to some technical and practical aspects related to the process, services will be launched nationwide very soon, maybe by Diwali,” an MEA official said. “It will be a big leap towards bridging the digital divide in rural and urban India, an objective that the CSC project was launched for.”
As of now, CSCs are only allowed to fill in application forms and upload them for those seeking passports in their area of operations. Apart from filling and uploading applications, the VLEs make payment of applicable fees online on behalf of the applicants and schedule their appointments at Passport Seva Kendras. Now, the VLEs will be empowered to collect and upload documents and photographs after verification. This step is a key first step towards issuing a passport.
Once the new system is launched, it will benefit rural youth immensely as they will be able to get their documents checked and uploaded at the local kiosk itself. On a functional level, issues with applicants’ documents will be checked virtually at their doorstep and they will have the opportunity to rectify problems, if any, immediately.
“This will generate employment in rural regions where more people will be needed for the job of uploading and handling the process and other related work,” said a senior official at Electronics Niketan. But the question is whether the government is also considering giving more financial support to the VLEs so that they can employ the youth at their CSCs. Government officials do not have a definite answer to this, but they point out that the earnings of VLEs will rise with the increase in assignments. They will be allowed to charge more from the applicants, leading to more revenue for such local processing centres, and this will therefore create an opportunity to employ more people. Also, the possibility of government incentives and benefits, whether in cash or kind, has also not been ruled out.
At present, 3.75 lakh CSCs operate across India, most of them in rural or semi-urban areas. Therefore the government wants to use such a vast and extensive network to do the bulk of work at the village level itself. As the number of people seeking passports is rising, the thinking is that the initial process should be handled at the local level instead of applicants travelling to distant places just to initiate the process and get their documents verified. One of the main objectives of starting CSC projects was to take the services to the doors of people in rural areas. Unemployed youngsters from villages had to spend on bus or train fare to reach cities for such work. Moreover, many people in villages stood to lose a day’s earnings to get the work done. Officials say that with these problems in mind, CSCs were serving the purpose of improving local governance across rural regions of the country.
The CSCs are a strategic component of what the National e-Governance Plan (NeGP) is all about. This plan was approved by the government in May 2006. Basically, the CSCs are the delivery points for government, private and social sector services in the areas of agriculture, health, education, banking, insurance, pension, utility bill payments, entertainment and the like for the rural population at their doorstep. Passport-related services were added as part of the ongoing efforts of the government to boost e-governance. Now, the new step to empower VLEs and CSCs further will give more impetus to the entire e-governance structure.
A huge number of villagers already avail of CSCs to avoid travelling to district or state headquarters for minor issues in government offices. Passport division officials are of the view that entrusting VLEs with more responsibility will also ease the burden on Passport Seva Kendras (PSKs) considerably. However, police verification has to remain the same. The biometric data collection part of the process will also continue to be done at the PSKs.