Mumbai: New software worth Rs 92 cr causes pile-up of passports

Used to process Emigration Check applications of unskilled labourers wanting to go abroad, it requires uploading of documents at every step and is marred by server breakdowns regularly, forcing officials to work overtime

Unskilled Indian labour is in great demand, especially in the Gulf countries. But a new software, implemented by the Ministry of Overseas Indian Affairs to clear passports with Emigration Check Required status, has caused processing delays that have left a huge backlog.


Long wait: Applicants stand in queue at the Protector of Emigrants office in Santacruz. Pic/Nimesh Dave

The eMigrate system launched on September 25 has ruffled feathers of applicants, Recruiting Agents (RAs) who help the applicants complete procedure for a commission, and the emigration officers at the Mumbai Protector of Emigrants (PoE) office alike. The system, for which the government reportedly paid software giant Tata Consultancy Services (TCS) R92 crore, is used to process requests from unskilled labourers wanting to go abroad for a job. With the previous system, called SAI, the 10 PoE employees would clear a minimum of 4,000 passports in a day, eMigrate could initially do only 200-300 passports a day. This managed to run up to 1,500 on Friday, but is still nowhere as efficient as its predecessor.

Paperwork
The SAI system was developed by former Protector of Emigrants Sandeep Roy, at a cost of R10 lakh. It required uploading of only three documents — the demand letter, power of attorney letter, and specimen employment contract. RAs could generate other documents like deployment permission, interview request on their end of the system, and could also print affidavits on stamp paper and get it notarised from the SAI system. For insurance validation, the first step in SAI, the system fetched the data of the policy from the insurance company server, thus reducing data entry load at the PoE end.

eMigrate, on the other hand, requires scanned documents at every step and manual entry of data by the applicant or his RA. It doesn’t generate the documents on its own, like the SAI. Moreover, with the server being slow and unpredictable, officers are pulling their hair apart trying to process a single application. They have to do overtime to clear as many passports as they can, and are also working on public holidays and weekends. Despite this, they are behind schedule by 10-15 days, whereas SAI would complete work in a day.

“The eMigrate server was down for the entire day on November 8, and was fixed only around midnight. Due to this, two officers in the POE office were working throughout the night till 6 am next day, when the server stopped working again,” explained an officer at the POE office.

Roy, who built SAI, told mid-day, “The SAI system was never closed and worked 24x7 without any server issues. It was made by consulting the POEs, and was user-friendly and transparent. It is shocking to learn why the government went ahead with a project that cost them R92 crore, besides causing inconvenience. The SAI system gave no problems and cost a mere R10 lakh.”

Agentspeak
RAs, too, are up in arms against the new software. The Employment Promotion Council of Indian Personnel, apex body of RAs registered with the POE, has objected to the implementation of the project. Deepak Chabria, its chairman, has filed an RTI request to know the exact cost of the eMigrate project.

“Being the main hub controlling more than 70 per cent of total India’s overseas recruitment, Mumbai is a very important city and the POE office has, in the past, granted emigration clearance to 7,000 emigrant workers on a single day. This is the highest number of clearances received in a day. In a given month, they would grant 45,000 approvals. But now, the condition of officers as well as the applicants is extremely poor, as both of them, along with us, are slogging to clear as many passports as we can.”

Athar Qureshi, head of Indian Personnel Export Promotion Council, another RA, added, “The trial of this new system was conducted in Delhi. Instead, the trial should have been conducted in the Mumbai office as it bears the maximum load. There are 800 active RAs in Mumbai alone. This new system could have been improved if the government wanted some changes, rather than coming up with a complete new highly expensive project that has become a headache to everyone.”

Officialspeak

Satish Dubey, project director of the eMigrate project from TCS, said, “I am not authorised to speak on this matter. The ministry will comment on it.”

An official spokesperson of the Ministry of Overseas Indian Affairs said, “The eMigrate system was awarded to TCS through a detailed RFP process. The project is designed and developed as per RFP, and tested by a third party (STQC) before making the system operational. Complete documentation from requirement to testing is available for eMigrate system. Only 974 applications were pending as of October 17, 2014, for all ten POE offices. There is no additional requirement of documents for eMigrate system. All documentation requirements are as per standard practices of the Ministry, and the same are required to be uploaded, which was not the case with SAI. Training sessions were conducted at 64 classrooms across the country for all stakeholders, including Recruiting Agents. About 1,300 users attended these sessions. As far as submission of indemnity bonds are concerned, the Ministry is examining the possibility of reducing the same, including the size of documents.”

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