First, it will dispense with the last page that has the residential address, parents’ and spouses names, old passport numbers and emigration check required (ECR) status. 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.
Second, because passports will no longer display the ECR status, they will now have orange coloured covers. Skilled citizens (usually graduates) will continue to have the dark blue passports.
However good the underlying intentions might be these are two bad ideas, the second worse than the first. The Indian passport is used for a number of 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 Non-Resident Indians abroad.
The objection that women’s groups had to including the father’s name can easily be addressed—no pun intended — by making this last page voluntary.
Similarly, creating an orange passport for blue-collar workers enables and exacerbates class-based discriminatory treatment. Already immigration and airline officials treat less well-off Indians shabbily. The orange passport will rob its holder of dignity and diminish the egalitarianism that the Indian Republic is striving to build.
It is the duty of the Indian government to protect its citizens abroad, especially the more vulnerable ones. However, it can choose simpler and more liberal methods to achieve this: it could set up a voluntary register that any Indian can sign on to (or opt out of, in the case of unskilled workers) that Indian missions abroad could monitor. The Emigration Clearance rules, which allow government officials to decide whether or not a citizen can travel abroad, are an affront to free adult citizens of a free country.
In his book on the migration around the Bay of Bengal, Sunil Amrith writes of how newly independent India agreed to place restrictions on outmigration of its citizens in part to assuage the concerns of the new nation-states born out of the ashes of the British empire. Emigration Clearance has survived for one reason or the other since then, creating a political economy of shady agents, corrupt officials and hapless citizens who have one more hoop to cross.
India should get rid of Emigration Clearance and replace it with a voluntary registry. That means there won’t be a need for different coloured passports. Whether dark blue or orange, just one colour for all Indians, please.