Capturing Delhi in close circuit
Installing CCTV cameras to ensure women’s safety and providing free Wi-Fi in public spaces were two key poll promises of the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) in the 2015 assembly elections.Updated: Jul 01, 2019 08:26 IST
Come November, Delhi will not only have a common surveillance system, but the same network will also offer Wi-Fi at public places. Installation of 1.4 lakh CCTV cameras in residential colonies and markets across the city began this month. The PWD is also placing 35,000 Wi-Fi routers along with cameras, which will enable the AAP government to get started with its flagship, yet long-delayed, free internet project.
Installing CCTV cameras to ensure women’s safety and providing free Wi-Fi in public spaces were two key poll promises of the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) in the 2015 assembly elections.
The government aims to install 2.8 lakh cameras in two phases of 1.4 lakh cameras each. Also, 70,000 Wi-Fi routers will be installed in two phases.
“We worked out a unique model in which both the CCTV and Wi-Fi projects have been merged. The cameras will provide high resolution live feed and the Wi-Fi routers will create a hotspot zone in a radius of 50 metres around it. This is probably the first time that such a plan is being executed. Also, it is extremely cost effective compared to similar projects in cities abroad. The CCTVs otherwise could have been operated using SIM cards , which is being anyway included in our system,” said Gopal Mohan, advisor to chief minister Arvind Kejriwal and the in-charge of both the projects.
PWD officials said for every four cameras there will be a utility box with an NVR (network video recorder), a Wi-Fi router, a UPS for power back-up lasting an hour and a SIM card to locate the cameras and for network connectivity.
The department said full access to the Wi-Fi service will take a few more months. “For now, the Wi-Fi routers will provide internet only to those who are being given access to the live feed. Later, the routers will be synced with new ones once the Wi-Fi project, which awaits a cabinet nod, is officially rolled out,” another official said, adding that a new cabinet note on the Wi-Fi project has been sent to PWD minister Satyendar Jain.
People who will have access to the live camera feed include one RWA member, PWD officials, Delhi Police and a representative of the company that is installing and maintaining the cameras.
The PWD is constructing a state-of-the-art central command and control centre on the eleventh floor of the PWD headquarters at ITO where a specialised team of department officials will monitor the live feed 24x7.
“The central control room will have a large curved LED screen for selective live feeds. It will also have a complete virtual map of the national Capital on which unique tags of each cameras will be plotted. The CCTVs that are functional will appear as green pins while the dysfunctional ones will appear as red. This will help us raise a repair request with the concessionaire,” the official said.
To protect the CCTVs from damage, theft and prevent changes in the set angle, cages are being built around the cameras.
So far, 1,000 cameras have been installed in Patparganj, Badli, Madipur, Timarpur, Babarpur, Rohtas Nagar, Shakur Basti and Seemapuri assembly constituencies. By July 31, the government has set a target of installing 20,000 cameras across the city. Delhi has 70 assembly segments and each will have 2,000 cameras in the first phase, while 2000 more will be added in the second phase.
It was on a cold December morning last year when 60-year old Raman Chawla, a resident of K-13 in central Delhi’s BK Dutt Colony, found that his SUV worth over ₹30 lakh had been stolen.
“Had it not been for the cameras installed by the government at our colony gates, I would not have got my car back. These cameras were installed as part of PWD’s pilot project. The Delhi police used the footage from two such cameras at our gate to nab the culprits in 15 days. The footage showed the registration number of the vehicle in which the thieves had arrived,” said Chawla, a businessman.
Chawla and the colony’s RWA, however, suggested that the government should make the process of accessing archival footage easier. “In the car theft case, it took at least three days to get the CCTV footage from the PWD. Even as the police was investigating the matter, we still had to send reminders to the department. Making CCTV footage more accessible to RWAs would improve the response time to any untoward incident,” said Sudhir Mahajan, general secretary of the RWA at BK Dutt Colony – part of chief minister Arvind Kejriwal’s New Delhi constituency.
The colony was the first among the 22 areas where the AAP government had installed 300 CCTV cameras on a pilot basis over a year. Residents and traders in five such localities, where HT visited, welcomed the move and said it would act as a “deterrent” and help in quick disposal of criminal investigations.
While the PWD said its project does not include providing control centres in every colony, residents demanded it. “If the RWAs want, they can create their own control rooms. We can provide the username and password to access the live footage after verification,” said a PWD official.
According to Mohan, it was after the pilot project that the city administration decided to provide subsidy up to 30 units on the electricity bills of those residents who would volunteer to supply power to run the CCTV cameras and Wi-Fi routers. “The idea was to avoid providing power supply from select sources because then there would have been high chances of a mass blackout of cameras in case the electricity supply is snapped,” he said.
The Internet Freedom Foundation (IFF), a privacy advocacy group, said there is no study globally to prove that CCTV cameras act as a deterrent to crime.
Calling the project a “dangerous and irrational” approach to the issues of crime against women and public safety, Apar Gupta of the IFF said, “There is an emerging global acknowledgment that CCTVs have little to no impact in reducing the incidence of crime. The absence of safeguards will lead to the creation of a surveillance architecture that will inevitably be prone to misuse. Focus should also be given to the hundreds of dark spots that Delhi continues to have. Also, the government has made no documents related to the project public,” he said.
Mohan countered Gupta’s claim, saying the government is using VPN SIM to prevent a security breach. “Because of these SIM cards, even the manufacturing company won’t be able to hack into the camera data. The government has an SOP for everything right from installation to maintenance. Our system is such that even if someone covers a camera or tampers it, the five members who have access to the feed will get SMS alerts.