A jovial French civil servant, determined to see his ‘depressed’ compatriots grin, turned to the courts with an unlikely mission: to overturn a ban on smiling in passport photos, said a recent report in the New York Times. The civil servant, whose name was not disclosed, argued that France, a country where a grimace can be worn as a proud accessory needs to cheer up. His lawyer, Romain Boulet pleaded that relaxing the prohibition would buttress France’s image in the world. In India, they may not be wearing smiles in their photographs in passports but a massive campaign by the Indian government to issue passports has put smiles on the faces of tens of thousands who are now proud owners of passports and can dream of flying outside the country.
There is no such condition for photographs that are to be attached to the application for passport in India, said Secretary, CPV and OIA, Dnyaneshwar Mulay of the Ministry of External Affairs. As head of the Consular, Passport and Visa (CPV) department of the MEA, Mulay has gone about bringing wide ranging changes in the system, making it user friendly, doing away with hurdles that caused harassment to the passport seekers. The Ministry has been organizing, under its outreach programme, camps across the country. Around 100 camps are being organized every year now and all over the country. Every third day, a ‘passport mela’ is being organized somewhere in the country Mulay said. This year marks 50th year of the Passport Act. It is a long journey as today over a crore passports are issued by the government every year.
Mulay is keen that special emphasis is given to issue passports to students. A ‘students connect’ programme is under way wherein he has been visiting colleges, universities and educational institutions and telling students to obtain passports. Having a passport has always been considered a serious business in India and it was not long that one had to travel to the State capital to apply for a passport obtaining which warranted standing in endless queues, references from people who know you, police verification that took its own time. Many times one had to grease the palms of the policeman to ensure a positive report is dispatched without delay. Gone are the days when passport was considered to be a privilege of the elite. No longer. A passport has now become essential for identity in India as also in the world, opening up new vistas for education, employment, tourism and entertainment, Mulay said. Several conditions in obtaining a passport have now been relaxed. These include need for inclusion of names of parents (both father and mother), offering passports to orphans to name a few. As he travels across the country, Mulay was there at Sriharikota where his department held a ‘passport camp for the scientists of ISRO.
A number of ‘Passport Seva Kendras’ are being opened to ensure people do not have to travel distances to obtain a passport. His department is also trying to involve post offices. Effort is to make passport related services available through Post Offices. In January, a pilot project was launched in Post Offices at Mysuru in Karnataka and Dahod in Gujarat. He is confident it will succeed and more post offices would be offering passport related services. Under Mulay, the Ministry is in fact reaching out to the people and urging them, especially the youth, to obtain a passport. It is like giving the youth of the country wings to fly. The number of passport offices in the country has shot up and an average of 50,000 to 60,000 passports are issued every day, he said. A renowned author and poet who writes in Marathi, Hindi and English, Mulay‘s ‘Maati, Pankh aani Akash’ (earth, wings and sky), a book in Marathi- based on his own story- published over a decade ago was well received in Maharashtra and many, inspired by the story, chose to appear for the competitive examinations. There was a flood of letters, emails he received and continues to receive even now from readers who write pages of their appreciation, said Mulay.
Overwhelmed, he is planning to bring out a book on the letters, he said. The book portrays village life of the seventies and eighties. A suspended teacher who had given up hope, happened to read the book, regained her confidence and fought the case and won. She translated the book in Kannada. Is it his own story that made him launch a campaign to ‘give wings’ to the young in the country? “Very much so”, said Mulay. “I know how one feels without the wings. It is my dream that no person suffers on account of not having a passport”, he said. Indian passport has its own story to tell.
The use of passports was introduced to India after the First World War. The Indian Passport Act of 1920 required the use of passports, established controls on the foreign travel of Indians, foreigners travelling to and within India. The passport was based on the format agreed upon by 1920 League of Nations International Conference on Passports. It was in the early 20th century that passports as they are generally seen today began to be issued. It would have a photograph and signature, personal description, including details such as “shape of face”, “complexion” and “features”. Go to Wikipedia and one can visualize how the passport would describe the owner. The entry on ‘features’ might read something like: “Forehead: broad. Nose: large. Eyes: small.” The passports of the future will feature embedded microchips and biometric data, such as photographs, fingerprints and iris patterns. Malaysia was the first country to introduce this technology, and Australia, New Zealand, Japan, Sweden, the UK, the US, Germany, the Republic of Ireland and Poland, among others, have recently followed.
Issuing of passports was allotted by the government to the Ministry of External Affairs. Earlier, till 1954, this work was carried out by State Governments on behalf of the Ministry. It was in 1954 that the first five Regional Passport Offices at Mumbai, Kolkata, Delhi, Chennai and Nagpur were set up. This necessitated the setting up of a separate organization and the Central Passport and Emigration Organization was created in 1959 as a Subordinate Office of the Ministry. The Central Passport Organization (CPO) has sanctioned strength of about 2,697 officers and staff members as on April 1, 2013. Up to 1966, the issue of passports was regulated through administrative instructions. The power to issue passports was exercised by the Government by virtue of Article 73 read with List I, Item 19 of the Seventh Schedule of the Constitution of India.
However, as the Parliament was not in session, the Government promulgated the Passports Ordinance, 1967 and after six months replaced it with the present Passports Act, 1967, which came into force on June 24, 1967. This day is now celebrated as Passport Seva Divas. Under the Passports Act, 1967, the Central Government has the powers to frame rules there under. The first such Rules called the Passport Rules, 1967 were thus framed the same year. Following various amendments in course of time, these were consolidated and the Rules were last issued as the Passport Rules 1980 which have been further modified partially. As it celebrates its 50th birth day, the Indian passport is gearing up to provide wings to as many Indians as possible.