Will Delhi’s Rs 571-crore CCTV project finally take off successfully?

Lack of maintenance and monitoring, power supply and cost sharing issues have seen many cameras go kaput in the past. Now, with a freshly drawn-up Standard Operating Procedure, the Kejriwal government is all set to revive the project with 2000 installations across the city.

The three-year war of attrition between the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) government and Lt Governor Anil Baijal over installation of CCTV cameras across the capital appears to be over. Work has now begun on the plan to install 2000 cameras in each of Delhi’s 70 assembly segments, one of the flagship programmes of the Arvind Kejriwal government.

The objective is crime prevention. As per police records, Delhi sees one murder, six robberies, as many rapes, nine molestations, 19 snatchings, 126 vehicle thefts and 17 fatal road accidents every day, besides the ever present threat of terrorist attacks. Making the security of Delhi’s citizens its top priority, the Kejriwal government drew up this plan for installation of CCTV cameras across the city three years back.

The ambitious project, however, soon landed in controversy after Lt Governor (LG) Baijal constituted a special committee, headed by the secretary of the home department to prepare a regulatory framework for the installation, maintenance and monitoring of these cameras. Arvind Kejriwal publicly tore up the draft document this committee had prepared at a public meeting in July last. “For the last three years, the LG and his officers have not allowed us to work,” said Kejriwal. “Our file on the CCTV project was only cleared after Sisodia went on a 10-day hunger strike in the LG’s office”.

The estimated cost of the project is Rs 571.40 crore which includes capital cost Rs 320.96 crore plus maintenance cost of Rs 250.44 crore for a period of five years.The Delhi Cabinet had cleared the project in October 2015 and had designated the PWD as the nodal agency for implementing it.

In June 2016, the rate contract was approved by the Delhi Work Advisory Board whereby six agencies were empanelled to supply the CCTV cameras. Later that year, PWD Minister Satyendra Jain constituted a committee comprising officers from urban development department and notice was issued inviting tenders.

The first tender was floated in November 2017, but received a tepid response due to its strict eligibility conditions. The tender was re-issued in January 2018 after relaxing the eligibility criteria. The contract was finally awarded to defence PSU Bharat Electronics Ltd (BEL), which pipped its nearest rival Larsen and Toubro on price.

Also, given past experience, wherein 95 per cent of the cameras installed by the Delhi Police, over which the AAP government has no control, failed to work due to lack of maintenance and monitoring, the present contract specifies that the company implementing the project, BEL, will also be responsible for maintenance of the cameras.

Learnings from the past

Earlier, no one knew whose responsibility it was to install, maintain, and monitor these cameras. Take for instance the 4,388 CCTV cameras that the Delhi police installed in police stations, courts, markets, and other areas that they deemed sensitive. Of these, 1,457 are non-functional.

“The real concern, however, are the 2.45 lakh cameras installed under the community policing initiative ‘Nigehbaan’,” said a senior police officer. “Most of them are defunct or are not monitored”. In fact, the police did not even know if a particular camera was working or not till they tried to access its recording to solve a crime.

“CCTV cameras are crucial in a city like Delhi,” said L N Rao, former DCP. “They can help prevent crimes. Why wait for a crime to happen and then look for evidence to identify criminals,” said Rao. Sadly though, in dozens of places including posh south Delhi societies, busy markets and areas with no proper street lighting, there was no system in place to ensure proper monitoring of the cameras.

“The cameras were installed on the advice of the Delhi police,” said police spokesperson Madhur Verma. “Their footage has been used to nab criminals”. But the reality is that in crowded business cum residential areas like Greater Kailash, Khan Market, Hauz Khas Village, Connaught Place, India Gate, Lajpat Nagar, Sarojini Nagar and Dwarka, it was found that no one had been given the responsibility to regularly check the cameras. “Even now, no one knows if a camera is working or not till footage from the area is needed,” said a police officer.

Installation of CCTV cameras across Delhi was one of the key points in AAP’s manifesto. A start was made in 2015 with installation of 1200 cameras at a cost of Rs 156.43 lakh in the chief minister’s constituency using Kejriwal’s MLA Local Area Development fund. But besides lack of maintenance and monitoring, the cameras went kaput due to lack of power supply.

In some residential colonies covered by the CCTV project, the confusion over who will pay for power supply and maintenance led to many cameras going dead. For instance, three colonies, two near Gole Market and one in Sarojini Nagar, had a mix of functional and defunct cameras, depending on whether the local Residents Welfare Association (RWA) were paying for their operation and maintenance.

“About six or seven cameras were installed in our colony,” said Prithvi Raj, president of the managing committee of the Central Government Employees Residential Complex near Gole Market. “They did not give clear footage to begin with and now they are all non-functional.”

Kamaljeet Singh, of RBI Colony Sarojini Nagar RWA, said his colony, too, had been given about a dozen cameras around two-and-a-half-years ago. “But none of the cameras are functional as there was no maintenance. We complained to the NDMC, but there has been no response.”

The NDMC, on its part, claims that it has repeatedly raised issues of power supply and maintenance costs with the Chief Minister’s office. But with many RWAs refusing to foot the bill, power supply to most cameras was withdrawn.

Will things be any different this time around?

To avoid the same problems this time around, the Delhi government decided to draw up its own Standard Operating Procedure for maintenance and monitoring of the newly installed cameras. The new SOP was drawn up by a government team comprising “local police, Resident Welfare Associations (RWA) and any person who volunteers to help in the exercise under the overall charge of PWD,” said an official associated with this project. “It is focussed on residential localities”.

According to Delhi government officials, “300 CCTV cameras have been installed in some select areas to check if the specifications and performance match the requirements. The sites were selected according to suggestions from residents.” The PWD has, for now, been given the responsibility to monitor these cameras and check their efficacy, feed quality and storage capacity.

The work is being done as a pilot project as many government officials are involved in election work. As the project had been cleared before the model code of conduct came into effect, there is no legal impediment in going ahead with it, officials clarified.

Regarding funds for maintenance, the NDMC received a letter from Kejriwal’s office on February 12 2019, asking it to carry out repair and maintenance of the cameras installed in 2015. But the NDMC responded by asking whether the provision for using 15 percent of the MPLAD fund for maintenance should be applied once or every year. The CM’s office has not replied to this so far.

It is not just the issue of who will pay for the power that is as yet unresolved. Despite the government claiming that they now have an SOP for maintenance and monitoring of these cameras, there is still no one permanent authority to decide on siting and monitoring of these cameras.

Different authorities like Delhi Police, Delhi Metro, municipal corporations and commercial establishments have installed cameras. While they do share the feed with the police when a crime is reported, uncertainty shrouds other issues, such as what they do with the feed, how long they store them and in what form. It is also not clear if the PWD will be assessing these cameras too, or only the ones currently being installed.

The SOP, drawn up by the Kejriwal government, allows the police, the RWAs and the Delhi government access to the camera feeds, which will be downloaded to a set top box capable of handling four cameras each. This group would then monitor the feeds and in the event of any incident, follow up action would be taken by the police. Ownership of the feed will ostensibly rest with the Delhi administration.

Concerns regarding use of data

As there is no legal framework governing the use of these CCTV cameras, issues like privacy and security to prevent feeds from being misused are yet to be clarified. Technical details — such as whether the feed will be encrypted and whether access will be restricted in any manner — also lack clarity.

The police were not available for any comment on this. Nor were Delhi administration officials willing to comment on the above issues or share details on the PWD’s initial findings. Given all this, whether this expenditure of Rs 571 crore will really result in significant prevention and redress of crime in the city is anyone’s guess.

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