In a new series of proposals that will mean a major status change for Indian passports, the Indian Ministry of External Affairs is considering removal of the address of the passport holder from the document, as well as changing the colour of the jacket to orange. If implemented, the new measures are set to adversely impact foreign travellers as well as Non-Resident Indians (NRIs).
Surendera Kumar, under-secretary of policy and legal matters at the consular, passport and visa division of the ministry, confirmed with Hindustan Times that the change could happen when the ‘next series’ of passports is being issued. “The decision to keep the last page of the passport blank has been taken” to protect the details contained, he explained.
Currently, the first page of the passport has the photograph as well as other details of the passport holder; the address is printed on the last page.
The fact that this last page will not be there doesn’t affect the passport office and the immigration department (or security agencies) because they have all the details of the passport holder in the back-end. Since 2012, all passports have had a barcode and by simply scanning them, this information can be accessed.
India is among the few countries that require government approval for certain classes of citizens (mainly unskilled workers) to travel abroad, specifically to 17 countries. Under a 1983 law, Emigration Clearance is intended to protect the exploitation of unskilled workers by unscrupulous foreign employers, domestic agents and human traffickers.
The ECR system has come in for a fair share of criticism as it is said to impact the rights of Indian citizens. Recently, the ECR aspect was phased out of most Indian passports, being retained merely for minors’ documents and certain restricted classes.
“It's a dichotomy; we are proud to be Indian but not proud to have an Indian passport, merely because of the restrictions we face such as excessive visas for travel. The proposed measures have exacerbated the situation and made it harder for Indian passport holders. The key is to pass reforms that make it easier to travel on an Indian passport, not the other way around,” said Akshobh Giridharadas, erstwhile reporter at Channel NewsAsia currently studying Geopolitics and Diplomacy at The Fletcher School at Tufts University in Massachusetts.
The government is also allegedly planning to have orange coloured covers to mark the passports of unskilled workers travelling abroad. Skilled citizens (usually graduates) will continue to have the dark blue passports.
Public policy experts claim that the Indian passport is used for more purposes abroad than merely at immigration counters. Because they have authoritative information, foreign banks accept them for opening bank accounts, transport departments for issuing driving licenses, hospitals for registering patients, civic authorities for issuing marriage and birth certificates and so on. Removing the information on the last page will cause unnecessary inconvenience for travellers and NRIs abroad.
Creating an orange passport for blue-collar workers enables and exacerbates class-based discriminatory treatment, and are merely another form of Emigration Clearance rules, which are an affront to the people, they said.
As per norms laid down by the International Civil Aviation Organisation—a United Nations body—passports can only be in shades of red, blue, green or black. An orange passport, if it does come through, may be derived from the red, but still stand out from the other maroon/burgundy/red passports from around the world.