From rape capital to safe capital

Delhi police will soon have state-of-the-art surveillance and data mining technology for maintaining law and order. However, individual privacy could be a casualty


Pratap Vikram Singh | March 21, 2013

In a year’s time, the technical expertise of Delhi police will get a shot in the arm, as the union ministry of home affairs plans to revamp the security apparatus in the national capital.

If everything goes as per plan, the Delhi police will soon be able to nab a suspect or identify a suspicious activity with the help of thousands of CCTV cameras, advanced video analytics and face recognition technologies. This will be quite similar to the way the US intelligence agencies are shown hunting for protagonist Jason Bourne (a rogue CIA sleuth) in Hollywood’s Bourne movie series.

The revamp is part of the ministry’s police modernisation project, under which it is implementing safe city plan in six mega-cities (besides Delhi) across the country. Delhi police has already selected the multinational professional services firm, PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC), as the consultant. The firm is helping the police in making a detailed project report (DPR). The DPR, according to a senior Delhi police officer, is likely to be finalised this month and the project will be up and running in a year.  

Termed as integrated intelligent security surveillance system (IISSS), the project is likely to cost '1,000 crore. The system is expected to enormously increase the surveillance capabilities of the Delhi police and enable cops to not only ensure security but also safety of people in the national capital.

The project includes a centralised command and control centre, connected to 5,000 CCTV cameras, and an intelligent transportation system. The CCTV cameras will be mounted on major intersections and lanes.

The centralised control centre will also have integration with cameras deployed at railway and metro stations, airport and private facilities.

These cameras will be in addition to the 3,000 cameras being procured and mounted in Delhi’s markets and border checkposts. At present, the city has 1,300 CCTV cameras to cover 27 markets and four border checkposts. In aggregate, the police will get real-time videos from its own 8,000 cameras and also from cameras mounted in private and other public facilities, thereby covering a major part of the national capital.

Elaborating on video analytics, Sandeep Goyal, joint commissioner of police, economic offences wing, Delhi police, said: “There are different algorithms (software program) to identify a person, object or an activity. There is a program which can alert if a person appears multiple times in front of the camera. Similarly, there are programs for movement and perimeter violation. We can draw a virtual line around a place and when someone crosses it, the system alerts.”

Nabbing suspects would become easy, he said. “Suppose there is a bomb blast and there are 30 cameras around that area. (Once the system is in place) we don’t have to go through each camera while looking for suspects. Instead, the system will itself give us frames (screens) in which the suspects appeared. The software can pinpoint whether such a person has roamed around that area in the past,” he explained.

To keep a constant vigil in problematic areas, the police have also decided to procure under IISSS unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) to provide real-time aerial view of the area. According to Goyal, the UAVs come cheap in comparison to helicopters. They can be remote-controlled and they work anytime, anywhere.

Besides stepping up the vigil, the government also plans to equip constables with advanced personal digital assistants (PDAs). The multi-in-one handheld device will have camera, fingerprint reader, GPS uplinking, data transfer facility, in addition to the usual calling feature. The device will help cops click images of incidents and file reports instantly.

Besides, they will also be used for serving e-challans.  

“We will provide personal digital assistants (PDAs) to beat constables so that they can report incidents as soon as possible. They can click some images, verify fingerprints and file brief reports straightaway. Also, we will expand the e-challan system,” said Goyal.

The existing 633 police control room (PCR) vans will also be upgraded as part of the project. They will be fitted with intelligent terminals (a type of communication device with a display screen) to facilitate better data exchange between the vans and the control room. “Though the vans are already connected through wireless and GPS, the terminals will enable connectivity with police databases. This will make it possible for the control room to share images and other data on a real-time basis. Some PCR vans will also be provided with automatic numberplate recognition (ANPR) cameras. 

With the deployment of intelligent transportation system or automatic traffic management system (ATMS), as termed under IISSS, the signal timings at traffic junctions will be rationalised. Based on the data obtained from sensors (around junctions), the software algorithm will itself calculate and decide the green and red signal timing for each direction at a traffic junction. 

Not only that, as major junctions will have CCTV cameras (which could be pan-tilt-zoom, or ANPR or a static camera), the traffic violators could be served challans based on the recorded video. 

“With this system, we wish to achieve better enforcement with limited strength of policemen. Another objective is to facilitate behavioural change in law violators. The 24x7 vigil and reduced response time will act as deterrent to the violators,” Goyal said. 

He said since the response time (post-incident) will be reduced with better surveillance, it will help Delhi police reach out to the victims, especially women, swiftly. Separately, the department of telecommunications under the communications and IT ministry has written to all telecom service providers to provide location details of the people who call up on the police helpline, 100 or other helpline numbers, so that emergency help can be provided immediately. The industry is reluctant though, as it involves investment on service providers’ side — the user location software costs '1.5 lakh for each tower, said a police official, wishing anonymity.  

The integrated control room will also be wired with multiple databases of railways, airport, property registration, among others. It will have data mining tools to pull data from these databases. It will also be integrated with crime and criminal tracking and network system (CCTNS). 

Centrally, when MHA sets up its ambitious ‘fusion centre’, a national command and control centre, the IISSS will be integrated with it.  

While the elaborate plan is still being worked out by the police, experts have their own concern about its implementation.

The police have already implemented a number of ICT initiatives in the past. This includes the video surveillance project (deployment of 3,000 cameras) and C4I, which was implemented during the Commonwealth Games in 2010.

None of this has been a success, said former commissioner of police BK Gupta. 

A senior Delhi police official, now on deputation at an intelligence agency, questioned the quality of most cameras put in use under the CCTV surveillance project of Delhi police. A video camera should capture a minimum of 24 frames per second but many cameras in use in the market areas don’t meet even the lower criterion, the official pointed out.

Another case in point is the C4I project. “The project was dedicated to CWG. It is mere integration of cameras with the C4I control room which has limited number of video screens and personnel. It has nothing to do with public safety and security,” Gupta said. According to media reports, the C4I centre, which is getting video data from over 1,000 cameras, is already struggling with storage space.

In a visit to C4I centre, located at the police headquarters, this correspondent found that the system is being utilised for a very limited purpose. It only considers “heinous calls” (murder, snatching, fire and dacoity come under “heinous” crime category of Delhi police). It has no role in cases of crime against women and other criminal incidents. 

Gupta also doubted the claim of Delhi police to implement the IISSS project in a year’s time, citing the cumbersome tendering process and budgetary challenges. Goyal, however, defended that the implementation will not take more than a year, if done at a stretch.

The centralised centre will be located in Delhi police’s new headquarters, which might take one to two years. “Meanwhile, we will run the show through existing C4I and traffic control centre,” Goyal said. 

For a speedy implementation, the project might be split in two parts – integrated surveillance system and centre and intelligent transportation. Though the DPR will be same, there will be two separate tenders for the two components. The objective is to delink the implementation of one from the other, Goyal said.


The cops will also be equipped for telecommunication surveillance. While mobile user location service will be provided by service providers by the end of this year, the police also wish to acquire a ‘keyword-based communication monitoring system’. While this could be helpful in criminal investigation, the same technology will be prone to misuse by breaching individual privacy. This can be frequent, especially in the absence of strict privacy laws.

Tapping of GSM and landline phones and unauthorised access to CDR records are already common among the intelligence agencies. Through the keyword-based surveillance, Delhi police will have higher interception abilities.

While referring to increased surveillance and its implication on privacy, Praveen Sood, additional director general of police, Karnataka, told Governance Now: “You do not have systems in place. You do not know who will use it, what it will be used for, and (if it can be) misused. There should be policies and controls in place for data and its protection before any system (for criminal investigation) can be put in place.” (See Praveen Sood’s full interview on page 66, March 16-31, 2013 issue of Governance Now.)



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