Millennium Post

Somebody is watching you!

Somebody is watching you!
It was the first week of June and Khetan Bhuva was about to end his eight-hour shift. Having kept an eye on the video wall all day, with the other focussed on supervising his juniors, he was looking forward to retiring for the day. Just then, an image on one of the screens caught his attention and Bhuva asked a junior colleague to play the video all over again.

At first, there seemed nothing unusual in the images captured on an otherwise humdrum late-afternoon mid-week ennui on the city’s Ghoddod Road. The traffic flow appeared moderate, and quite organised, when a red car entered the picture and was stopped by a man. The CCTV captured the man pointing below and having a brief chat with the driver – apparently informing him about some fault in the car. At this point, Bhuva had the camera zoom in: the driver parked the vehicle and opened the bonnet to check further. As he disappeared behind it, a young onlooker surreptitiously took out the laptop bag from the car’s rear seat and disappeared in the traffic.

Bhuva did not need his years of policing experience to figure out that the driver had been tricked by an organised gang. He immediately dialled 100 and informed them. As supervisor of the command and control centre at the city police commissioner’s office, sub-inspector Bhuva is responsible for overseeing the growth of something revolutionary for Surat. Shorn of technicalities, the Surat ‘safe city’ project is keeping a hawk’s eye on the city – to prevent crime, nab criminals, check traffic, and essentially make the residents feel more assured of their security. And all this is done electronically, with the likes of Bhuva responsible for keeping an eye on those electronic eyes.

While only 104 of the proposed 5,000 cameras have been put up so far, with another 1,396 set to be up and running by the end of November this year, authorities say there has already been a dip in crimes reported in zone-3, Surat’s business hub. With most of the operational cameras installed in this zone, which has many diamond-cutting and textile units, officials say crimes reported are down 20 percent in this zone.

An idea, and its implementation

According to officials, the idea germinated with Surat police commissioner Rakesh Asthana’s visit to London in 1996-1997. On a training exercise there, Asthana was impressed with the way the Scotland Yard monitored the city with CCTV cameras and wanted to test the viability of such a system in an Indian city.

The time was right for Surat, a city coming to terms with the fact that terror could be knocking at its door as well – close on the heels of the serial blasts in Ahmedabad in 2008, almost 30 bombs were defused in the textile and diamond hub. This scare, coupled with the rapid expansion of the city, made Surat residents recognise the need for better policing.

‘Two years ago, Surat was the second fastest growing city in India and fourth fastest in the world. With expansion and development, a city needs effective technological medium for policing,’ BS Jebaliya, additional commissioner of police, range 1, Surat city, explained.

Game on, well and truly

The time was right, and under the aegis of Traffic Education Trust, constituted in 2005 as a public-private partnership (PPP) initiative, Surat residents planned the ‘safe city’ project along with the police commissioner’s office. The trustees, who comprise the common people of Surat, decided to take the responsibility of their own safety. ‘A project to monitor the city from a central control room, using closed-circuit TV cameras, has been in the itinerary of the state government for almost a decade. Tired of being at the mercy of the government, we decided to take matters into our own hands,’ said a trustee (name withheld on request). Following a series of meetings, the trust decided that development and implementation of the project will be the responsibility of the common man.

Ashok Kanungo, secretary of the Traffic Education Trust, said, ‘To begin with, we needed consultants for the project. A consultant typically charges 10 to 15 percent of the project cost (and) we roped in the best technocrats and engineers from South Gujarat University, the National Institute of Technology (NIT) and the diamond industry, who worked for free.’ Once chief minister Narendra Modi sanctioned it, the next step was to raise funds. ‘We ran a newspaper advertisement informing people about the project and requested their cooperation. This was the trickiest bit as many with suspicious background wanted to avail of the opportunity – people with criminal records approached the commissioner with huge sums of money for the safe city project in lieu of leniency.

‘Naturally, they were turned away. Mostly business people contributed for the first phase of the project. Only cheque payments were accepted and income tax exemption was granted for the sum donated.’ The Surat Municipal Corporation (SMC), Kanungo said, contributed Rs 2 crore for the project. While the overall project cost has been estimated at Rs 180 crore, the first phase of work, cost Rs 10.72 crore.

Groundwork, and the first phase

Tenders, Kanungo said, were invited after the team of consultants researched on the best available technology. ‘Twenty-one companies participated in the bidding. After evaluating live demonstrations by all of them, the contract was awarded to a consortium called ‘Innovative’, which supplied the camera, software, hardware, video wall and storage,’ he added. The tender was finalised in September 2012 and by December the first phase of the project was completed. ‘In the first phase, 104 cameras have been installed in 23 locations,’ additional CP Jebaliya said. ‘The targeted areas are bus and railway stations, busy traffic junctions and areas important from the law and order angle. The Ganpati immersion of Surat is second only to that of Mumbai, with around 30,000 immersions in a day. The route of the immersion has to be monitored, along with the diamond and textile markets.’ (Jebaliya spoke to Governance Now days before the Ganpati festival this year).

He said night-vision cameras have been put up in coastal areas, and all CCTV cameras are 2 megapixel IP base. Seniors officers have the licence to monitor the situation from any location using iPads or laptops.  The cameras are long range or short range depending on the location, and pan tele zoom (PTZ) lenses have been installed at busy traffic junctions, railway stations and coastal areas, he said.

‘We call it the non-intrusive method of enforcement of traffic rules. We believe the traffic police should devote all their time (and effort) in regulating traffic,’ he said. Once a traffic offence is caught on camera, the vehicle’s data is fed into the system to get all details of its owner. E-challans mentioning the date, time, place along with a screen grab of the offence is then dispatched to the vehicle’s owner.

With the system up and running, South Gujarat University’s computer department personnel trained police officials to use the computers and technology. The police department is at present integrating all police vehicles with GPS devices. ‘We will monitor the city with the cameras and will be able to locate contact and dispatch police vehicles stationed closest to the spot of crime or chaos with the help of GPS,’ Jebaliya explained. The software, Jebaliya said, is tamper-proof: ‘The feed can only be viewed and stored but cannot be altered.  Only authorised personnel have access to the control room.’

By arrangement with Governance Now
Puja Bhattacharjee

Puja Bhattacharjee

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