In India acquiring a passport is is often about social status. Earlier, getting a passport was a painstakingly long process. But with time and technological advancements, the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) has come up with effective ways to expedite the process. Now passports can be obtained within a month or updated within a week.
The MEA has recently announced changing the colour of passports. Indian citizens who fall under the Emigration Check Required (ECR) status will soon have passports with orange jackets instead of the dark blue ones. The decision has raised a fair share of controversy.
What are the changes?
Indian passports are currently endorsed with the ECR status or with the ECNR status. There are 14 categories of citizens who automatically qualify for an ‘ECNR’ status, including all income tax payers, persons below the age of 18 years and above the age of 50 years and all persons having a secondary level educational qualification.
Uneducated and unskilled Indian citizens require an ECR passport from the office of the Protector of Emigrants (POE) to seek employment in countries like Afghanistan, Bahrain, Brunei, Kuwait, Indonesia, Jordan, Lebanon, Libya, Malaysia, Oman, Qatar, Sudan, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Thailand, UAE and Yemen. All regular passports are either endorsed with an ‘Emigration Check Required (ECR)’ status or with ‘Emigration Check Not Required (ECNR)’ status.
The government accepted the recommendations of a three-member committee comprising officials of the MEA and the Ministry of Women and Child Development seeking to examine various issues pertaining to passport applications. They noted instances where a mother/child had insisted that the name of the father should not be mentioned in the passport and other issues related to children with single parents and adopted children. The government is doing away with printing information such as the name of the father/legal guardian, the mother, spouse and an address in the last page of the passport. The removal of this page would mean that passports may no longer serve as address proofs. Passport holders with an ECR status would be issued a passport with an orange-coloured jacket. Those with non-ECR status will continue to get blue passports.
What is the challenge?
According to government officials, the change in the colour of the passports will make immigration checks easier and more efficient. It will benefit blue collar workers. According to MEA sources, there is already an option of switching from ECR to ECNR when a person completes three years of staying abroad or pass matriculation after migrating.
But there are many experts who are against this move and feel that this will discriminate Indian citizens based on their economic and educational qualifications. Congress President Rahul Gandhi criticised the decision and tweeted, “Treating India’s migrant workers like second class citizens is completely unacceptable. This action demonstrates BJP’s discriminatory mind-set.”
Types of passports
Three types of passports are issued by the government:
(a) Regular Passport- Navy blue cover. It is issued to citizens for ordinary travel.
(b) Diplomatic Passport- Maroon cover. It is issued to Indian diplomats, top-ranking government officials and diplomatic couriers.
(c) Official Passport - White cover. It is issued to individuals representing the Indian government on official business.
The positive step
The government is constantly simplifying the process of acquiring passports. The mandatory police verification may soon be downplayed. The government is planning to merge the police verification of passports with Crime and Criminal Tracking Network and Systems Project (CCTNS). It was first conceptualised by the UPA government in 2009 and is expected to be functional by this year. It will eliminate the need of physical police verification. With this initiative, the manual process of police verification could be simplified and digitalised. This will also curb the local level corruption involved in obtaining police verification. The Union Home Secretary Rajiv Mehrishi said the CCTNS, which is an exhaustive national database of crimes and criminals, is expected to be linked with the passport service of the External Affairs Ministry. CCTNS will check the past history and background of the applicants digitally.