The Indian Express article, Govt treating migrant workers like second-class citizens, says Rahul Gandhi on passport rules, published January 14, 2018, talks about the government’s decision to end the validity of the passport as holder’s address proof. Congress President Rahul Gandhi has reportedly stated that this decision brings out the “discriminatory mindset” of the government. He alleged that the government is treating India’s migrant workers as second-class citizens.
Let us, therefore, see if these allegations and similar ones hold up to facts.
Fundamentals of the Indian Passport:
- In India, a passport is issued in the name of the President of India for the purpose of international travel and serves as a legal proof of Indian citizenship as per the Passports Act (1967). Also, since the time of its conception, the Indian passport has also served as a valid address proof across the country.
- With the MEA’s decision to implement a new design of the passport, with new colours and new features, it should be noted that a passport is not the only valid document in India which serves as an address proof. There are other basic documents which serve the same purpose.
- The poorer people in India, as well as migrant workers within the country, in any case would have other more fundamental identity documents, which also usually serve as address proof, such as the voter ID card or the ration card.
- Again, workers who are employed abroad, such as in the Middle East, are part of a more formalised process and they are likely to have additional documents for address, apart from both passport and perhaps also Aadhaar these days.
- It must also be noted that in a country like India, the passport has till date never really been a document that everyone has felt the need for or obtained as a primary proof of identity and address.
- Moreover, with Aadhaar serving as an address proof universally now, there does not seem to be any need for the passport to serve that same purpose anymore.
The Proposed New Passport Rules:
- All the information on the passport will be available, as per reports till now, on the database for concerned authorities. Since 2012, all passports issued have had a barcode which could be scanned for relevant information. Hence, there appears to be no need for the information to be printed on the passport itself.
- The absence of the last page, as proposed, is unlikely to affect the passport office itself or the immigration department (or security agencies) because they would still have all the details of the passport holder on the database.
- Reportedly, Surendra Kumar, who is the Under-Secretary of Policy and Legal Matters at the Consular, Passport and Visa Division of the Ministry of External Affairs has said: “The decision to keep the last page of the passport blank has been taken”, and this has been done to keep the privacy and identity of the person secured.
- The colour of the passport is supposed to undergo some minor changes as well. Those who need emigration check (ECR) in their passports are likely to have an orange coloured-passport. As of now, ECR-required passport is blue, as well as those which do not require ECR.
- This is likely to increase the speed of the security process as the colour of the passport will make it clear whether the emigration check is required or not.
- Again, it may be recalled that after the Supreme Court judgment allowing a single mother guardianship of her child, the Court had directed that the name of the father may not be necessary for obtaining the child’s birth certificate, passport, etc.
- Thereafter, a three-member committee comprising officials of the MEA and the Ministry of Women & Child Development took the decision after looking at “various issues pertaining to passport applications where mother/child had insisted that the name of the father should not be mentioned in the passport and also relating to passport issues to children with single parent and to adopted children”.
- Following this, the MEA had made changes to the Passport Rules, 1980. Among the changes, was the following: “The online passport application form now requires the applicant to provide the name of father or mother or legal guardian, i.e., only one parent and not both. This would enable single parents to apply for passports for their children and to also issue passports where the name of either the father or the mother is not required to be printed at the request of the applicant.”
- As reported in the media, MEA spokesperson Raveesh Kumar said: “The ministry has examined the recommendation of the Committee in consultation with various stakeholders, examined the guidelines of the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) regarding machine-readable travel documents and decided that the last page of the passport and other travel documents issued under the Passports Act, 1967, and Passport Rules, 1980, would no longer be printed”.
- Given the 2016 changes to passport rules, whereby the father’s name was no longer mandatory, does it not follow logic now to do away with names of parents and spouse, and other details altogether, which need not be printed and can actually be kept private and secure?
- Again, if the last page of the passport is no longer printed, it would seem to follow that holders requiring ECR-check would need some other indicate the same. That is why a change to the colour code has been proposed and there does not appear to be any violation of human rights or condescension towards anybody involved in this.
Therefore, the proposed changes to passport rules did not materialise out of thin air. They are the product of debate and deliberation, research and analysis. Again, in keeping with progressive directions given earlier by the apex court, the new rules also appear to be in keeping with evolving social ethos. There certainly does not appear to be any indication of a discriminatory mindset behind the changes.