MLF seminar on Painless Passports: From Endless Waits to Painless Passports
Passport services have improved dramatically and are set to get better
 
Moneylife Foundation organised a seminar on getting one of the most important documents for Indian citizens, the passport. We invited Tanmoy Chakrabarty, VP and head of government industry solutions, at Tata Consultancy Services, Dr Swati Kulkarni, Regional Passport Officer (Mumbai) and TD Sharma, Regional Passport Officer (Thane) to discuss passport-related issues.
 
Anyone who has dealt with the passport office over the past few decades knows of the long struggle to get a passport. Earlier, it would take months and, sometimes, years to get a passport. Today, it is time-bound and a lot more organised, thanks to automation and successful public-private partnership between the Tata Consultancy Services and MEA (ministry of external affairs). 
 
Moneylife stumbled on the topic of passports two years ago, after our columnist Vinita Deshmukh voiced the complaints of a large number of passport applicants in Pune. At that time, Mr Chakrabarty responded quickly, heard the problems and systematically sorted them out. We soon noticed that an increasing number of citizens started expressing their surprise at the efficiency at passport offices and passport seva kendras (PSKs). This led us to invite Mr Chakrabarty and senior passport officials to share their experience and interact with the Foundation members.
 
Mr Chakrabarty stated that “Instead of long lines from 3am, we have been able to give appointments to people to come at a specific time, reducing the queues.” On the issue of the new e-migrate system, “For example, in Libya two years ago, we had a large Indian workforce. Employers often impound labourers’ passports to keep them in check. So when the coup happened, MEA could not identify Indians in Libya. This system will help in such a situation,” he said.
 
Dr Swati Kulkarni, a physician who joined IFS (Indian Foreign Service) spoke about the steps government has taken ranging from better training of staff and adding infrastructure, to including new thinking from the ITeS sector, to making MEA more citizen-centric. She said that “From painless passports, we hope to make it ‘passports with pleasure’ and as stressed by the minister, we want to take the PSKs to each district.”
 
Mr Sharma spoke about the relatively new passport office in Thane which was set up in 2001 and its fast evolution into a hub for nine districts. He said that the number of applications has risen by 63% since 2008. He also said that “We are trying to bring Maharashtra’s police departments to the centralised district police headquarters (DPHQ) model, which will help bring down the time taken for police verification considerably.” He generously shared with the audience simple checklists for different types of passport-seekers; these have been put up on the Moneylife website. The panel then responded to a variety of questions from an eager audience. 

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Best Mobiles for 2015

Both hardware and software for mobile handsets is going through a sea change. In 2015, expect more powerful processors, extra dose of RAM, HD screens and finally, the 4G network for masses

 

Although mobile handset makers are trying to make a last ditch attempt to end 2014 on a high note, for those who are willing to wait a little more, the future looks better. Sometimes we prefer to wait and wait for mobile upgrades or just go and buy a device that looks best as per our choice and budget. In both cases, remorse starts to creep in. Therefore, it is better to be well prepared or to know what is available in the market and what is around the corner. That is the reason I will discuss hardware, software and other features, which will be in the spotlight in 2015, rather than using brand or handset names. 
 
There are several interesting devices lined up for 2015 by mobile companies. Next year we will witness Nokia returning to the handset business using the Android platform, while market leader Samsung is all set to introduce handsets with 4GB RAM. This also means, mobile handsets with 2GB RAM may become the basic standard by the end of next year.
 
However, before looking into the future, let us see how the mobile market fared in 2014. Especially for India, 2014 can be named as the year with value for money handsets, like Xiaomi Mi3, Red 1S, and Note and Asus Zenfone series. This assault by value for money devices was so powerful that several top of the line, as well as low cost domestic mobile producers were forced to join the race. After looking at and using the Mi3, I can say that it was definitely the best value for money mobile device in 2014. Unfortunately, Xiaomi has stopped selling Mi3 in India. Maybe the company would introduce the Mi4 in India in the next few months, but it depends on its ongoing court case filed by Ericsson over certain patent issues.  
 
In the highest paid mobile devices, both Apple and Samsung continued their war by launching their flagships, Apple iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus and Galaxy Note 4, respectively. However, due to the cost factor, it remained out of reach for most mobile users. Nevertheless, those who bought these would vouch for their own devices.
 
During 2014, Google tried its hands on the value for money market with the Android One based devices. However, except some initial enthusiasm, these devices could not evoke enough response. In addition, other handset makers, who were not part of Google’s Android One platform, launched their own devices in the same range, but with original Android software and better hardware.
 
Microsoft, which rescued Nokia, finally decided to drop the name of the Finnish device makers from its offerings. Microsoft launched two variants, 535 and 535 dual SIM of its own Lumia brand that will not use Nokia name. On the other hand, Motorola seems to have learned its lesson and launched the second generation of its popular Moto G and Moto X devices with a facility for additional memory card. While Moto G (2nd Gen) seems to be doing well, its elder sibling, the Moto X (2nd Gen) is still beyond reach for most users with its price tag of over Rs30,000.
 
Sony’s latest flagship Xperia Z3 was well appreciated by critics and fans. However, due to its heavy price tag (in the range of Samsung Note4 and iPhone 6), it could not reach the hands of many users.
 
HD screens all round: With quad core and octa core processors and additional GPUs, boosting performances of several mobile devices, screen resolutions are also becoming clearer and crisper. Off course, low cost and value for money (ok, except a few) devices cannot offer full HD (1920x1080 pixel) resolution but they may give you a HD screen (1280x720 pixel). In fact, HD screen may become the standard resolution for majority of mobile handsets by the end of 2015. So be ready to enjoy your HD video and sharper and crystal clear photos.  
 
More power to you: According to reports, Samsung has started mass production of its 4GB LPDDR4 mobile DRAM memory chips. These chips use 20nm manufacturing process and are reportedly 50% faster than the current record holder LPDDR3 memory in the market. Off course, do not expect this RAM in your low cost or value for money mobile handsets soon. However, by the end of 2015, we may see 2GB RAM becoming a basic standard for all smartphones. Similarly, 2014 may be the last year for dual-core processors for mobile while quad core may see this happening by December 2015.  
 
Is 13MP camera becoming the new standard? The year 2014 saw a spurt in the use of phones for imaging and related purposes, yes, including selfies clicked with mobile phone cameras. No wonder that handset makers are trying to provide extra dose of megapixels (MP) to front cameras used to click selfies. Also during the year, we saw some real up-gradation in MP-wise capacity of mobile main cameras, which had remained stagnant at 8MP for quite some time. This year, for most of the value for money and pricey mobile handsets, 13MP feature is fast becoming a standard. Personally, I do not see any major difference in photos clicked with 8MP and 13MP cameras. In fact, very few, would find any difference in those images. For a normal or regular usage, both cameras are capable of clicking good quality pictures. So unless, you want to click professional quality photos or plan to use it for high quality prints, do not fall for the 13MP gimmick. 
 
4G or 3G? In 2015, we may see the launch of Reliance Jio’s most ambitious 4G mobile network. At present, Airtel and Aircel are offering 4G services at some places. However, unless a big player like Reliance Jio enters the market, the tariffs and availability of 4G may remain beyond the reach of masses. One thing is for sure, 4G will be here soon and if you are planning to upgrade or buy a new handset, make sure it supports 4G as well.
 
My mobile, my OS? In January 2010, I wrote about how consolidation of technologies can be the game-changer in the future. “The coming decade, however, will be dominated by issues of accessibility and compatibility of technologies and devices.” Flexibility to install an OS of your choice will radically change the dynamics of the mobile-phone market.
 
Well, this may just be coming true. Micromax, the largest handset maker in India, is launching its YU brand devices that are based on CyanogenMod OS. Although, this OS is based on Android KitKat, it offers more choices to users, including privacy control, access to the root, kernel and great scope for personalisation and customisation. I use, CyanogenMod 11 on my now-out-of-warranty Samsung S plus and can vouch for the ease and user controls of this modified OS. Micromax has priced its YU Yureka device at Rs8,999 on Amazon.in and assured that playing with the root or OS will not deprive buyers the warranty. Yu will go for sale on 13th January. Here's hoping some among the biggies too will will offer only hardware and give the buyer the choice to install an OS of her choice.  

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COMMENTS

Maharsh Kapadia

2 years ago

Dual slim & Battery capacity also becomes important feature now a days.

Amol

2 years ago

I think you missed oneplus one

Airtel's extra charges for VoIP services under govt scanner
The government is looking into Airtel's separate charges for internet browsing and using VoIP apps like Skype and Viber 
 
Bharti Airtel, the country's largest mobile operator is reportedly under the government scanner over is decision to hike charges for voice over internet protocol (VoIP) apps, like Skype, Viber, Facebook Messenger and Google Hangouts.
 
Speaking with reporters, Ravi Shankar Prasad, the Minister for Information and Communication has said that the Ministry will look into the Airtel VoIP tariff hike and the government would come back with structured response.
 
On Wednesday, Airtel had announced higher tariffs for using popular internet services to make voice calls to family and friends abroad. The company decided to increase internet charges by nearly 16 times more than the ordinary data pack rates. 
 
Under its terms and conditions, Airtel said, "All Internet/data packs or plans (through which customer can avail discounted rate) shall only be valid for internet browsing and will exclude VoIP (Both incoming/ Outgoing). VoIP over data connectivity would be charged at standard data rates of 4paisa/10 KB (3G service) and 10paisa/ 10 KB (2G service)."
 

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