India's largest IT services firm, Tata Consultancy Services has been chosen by the government to execute the second phase of India's Passport Seva Programme.

The software services provider had won the contract for the first phase in 2008, when India's Ministry of External Affairs unveiled the Passport Seva Programme to transform the delivery of passport-related services.

While the company did not disclose the details of the contract, several media reports cited analysts who pegged the deal size at about ₹6,000- ₹8,000 crore.

In the next phase, TCS said it will refresh existing facilities and systems, and develop innovative new solutions to enable the issuance of e-passports and further enhance the citizen experience using technologies such as biometrics, artificial intelligence, advance data analytics, chatbots, auto-response, natural language processing, and the cloud.

"We are pleased to be selected for the next phase of the Passport Seva Program and look forward to driving further innovations and improving citizen experiences using our contextual knowledge and digital technologies," said Tej Bhatla, business unit head of Public Sector at TCS.

"TCS has been playing a vital role in building a Digital India, driving transformation programs of national importance. Our partnership with MEA over the last decade has become a benchmark in public-private partnership for citizen services," he said.

The Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) is responsible for issuance of Passports to Indian Citizens through a network of 36 Passport offices across the Country and 190 Indian Missions and Posts abroad.

Under this programme, the sovereign and fiduciary functions like verification, granting and issuing of passport have been retained by MEA. The ownership and strategic control of the core assets including data and information is also with MEA.

E-Passport rollout soon

The deal comes two days after the government announced that it will soon start issuing ePassports to citizens applying for a new passport or renewing their expiring passport.

"India to soon introduce next-gen ePassports for citizens," Sanjay Bhattacharyya, MEA secretary for the consular, passport and visa division, said in a tweet on Wednesday.

Bhattacharyya said that ePassports would be secure with biometric data and compliant with the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) standards, enabling smooth passage through immigration posts globally.

What's an e-Passport?

Unlike traditional passports printed on booklets, ePassports are considered more secure as they are embedded with a microchip that includes personal information of the holder including biometric details.

The upgrade is expected to deter identity theft, forgery, and also enhance connectivity for a streamlined immigration process.

The software for the ePassport has been developed by IIT Kanpur and the National Informatics Centre (NIC). To manufacture e-Passports, India Security Press, Nashik has awarded the contract for procurement of International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO)-compliant electronic contactless inlays along with its operating system necessary for chip-enabled e-Passports, the ministry said in a statement last year.

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