Railways scraps thermal cameras tender after firms allege advantage China
New Delhi: Railways has scrapped a tender for thermal cameras meant for Covid surveillance following complaints from Indian firms alleging that the tender specifications favoured a Chinese firm, Hikvision .
Railways’ telecom arm Railtel Corp of India Ltd (RCIL) in June, sought expressions of interest (EOI) for artificial intelligence (AI) based surveillance cameras . These can detect elevated body temperatures of people and can be used to screen people.
Railtel has decided to issue a fresh tender with modified specifications. “EOI for selection of partner for thermal temperature screening solution to RCIL’s customers stands cancelled with immediate effect. Fresh EOI will be published soon,” a notice by the state-owned company said.
This comes at a time when the Indian government has banned 59 Chinese apps (or apps with Chinese links), citing data security and privacy issues. The ban comes against the backdrop of escalating tension between India and China.
In a letter written to Railtel, one of the vendors said the pre-qualification criteria laid down has some anomalies and ambiguities. Hindustan Times has seen a copy of the letter.
“ Specifications issued are biased to Chinese OEM i.e. Hikvision, Specs clearly mentioned DeepinMind technology which is proprietary feature of Hikvision NVRs,” the letter said. OEM stands for original equipment manufacturer and NCR for network video recorders. DeepinMind is Hikvision’s proprietary AI technology. The name is a rip-off of DeepMind, an AI pioneer currently owned by Google parent Alphabet Inc.
“As per latest Revised Public Procurement (Preference to Make in India) Policy dated June, 4 2020, wherein various provisions related to local suppliers and purchase preference has been appended. This policy has clearly stated in clause no. 3(a) in procurement of all goods, services or works, in respect of which the nodal ministry/department has communicated that there is sufficient local capacity and local competition, only “class-1 local supplier”, as defined under the order, shall be eligible to bid irrespective of purchase value. It is also stated that Global tender inquiry shall not be issued except with the approval of competent authority. (in case estimated value of purchase is less than Rs 200 crore,” the vendor added in the letter.
Indian firms have alleged that artificial intelligence technology - DeepInMind which is specified in the tender is a proprietary feature of Chinese firm Hikvision, a company part owned by the Chinese government.
While the initial tender for these cameras issued on June 9 excluded a crucial specification called “black body” temperature -- the ability of the cameras to accurately measure temperatures emitted by a person to say whether a person has fever or not and the DeepinMind technology specification, they were included in the revised tender issued on June 23.
Railtel wanted to buy 800 such camera systems.
Hindustan Times on November 10, reported the national carrier is planning a complete overhaul of security at railway stations through the use of facial recognition technology backed by artificial intelligence.
It also planned to link the facial recognition system (FRS) with existing databases such as the Crime and Criminal Tracking Network & Systems (CCTNS) to identify criminals.