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Lack of maintenance plagues India’s safe city projects

Lack of maintenance plagues India’s safe city projects
India has several safe city projects which include the installation of CCTV cameras in public places. But do many of them actually work?
After the smart city plans, one of the most anticipated projects in India is safe city projects. Several public safety concerns have recently increased interest in them. The central and state governments have announced a number of plans that are supposed to make Indian cities safer and smarter.

But how far have India’s safe city plans come to practice? Siddharth Mehta, Director of ATOS, explains during the COVID-19 lockdown, most projects were halted, but now that the economy and businesses have opened up, the work has restarted. So if the implementation of the project is not the primary concern, what is?

The issue of maintenance

Speaking to, Rajiv Mathur, CEO of V4 Security Service and Regional Advisor-Asia for Outstanding Security Performance Awards (OSPA), pointed out that cities are getting more crowded implementing projects to make them safer are imperative. But problems arise when several government agencies are involved, and their powers overlap.

“In Delhi, for instance, several public surveillance projects are being executed,” Mathur explained. “Some of these are in places like markets, some on the roads, residential areas, etc. The state government is undertaking some of these projects. Some others are taken by the police, while municipalities take up even more. The main challenge would be to decide which agency would take responsibility for monitoring and maintain after installation.”

Often there is too much delay in getting a project implemented due to policy changes and red tape. While this itself is a challenge, who takes ownership once a project is completed is even more concerning.

“I’ll give you the example of a project where the Delhi government planned CCTV projects with several Resident Welfare Associations (RWA),” Mathur continued. “An RWA’s office bearers change every year. When the leadership changes, there are questions about who will take care of the maintenance, pay the electricity charges, etc. The secretaries and presidents of RWAs change often, and when that happens, they tend to lose interest in what the previous leadership had done.”

In short, the main challenge of safe cities in India is not the implementation of the project itself, but the onus of upkeep and maintenance of a project after installation. Interestingly, this is partly in line with Siddharth Mehta, Director of ATOS feels, as he explained that most of the city surveillance projects in the country had been implemented well.

Cameras installed but not recording

The issue of maintenance and upkeep was further highlighted by Jacob Koottummel, ELV Consultant at Techwise, who has worked closely with the state government of Kerala in the southern part of the country. He gave an example from the city where he resides.

“I live in Kochi, a city in Kerala and one of the busiest parts of this city is the Vyttila Junction,” Koottummel said. “There are at least about 40-50 cameras in that area, of which 20-25 are installed by government agencies like police or traffic management. Today, none of them work. This happens for several reasons. For example, when there is road work, the cameras are one of the first things to get disturbed. The cables are laid in such a way that it is the first thing that would get affected.”

The next issue is that the UPS batteries for the cameras are not protected from theft. Batteries are an attractive element to thieves and vandals, but Koottummel says that often these are not even given basic security.  Theft affects wireless systems also that are installed to communicate between lanes.

“Sometimes, I have even seen antennas of wireless systems twisted so that they don’t work,” Koottummel continued. “The problem is that the basic security aspects are not considered here. Someone is tasked to install the camera on contract, and they do install it, but there is no system in place to audit the installation or ensure its upkeep after it is put in place.”

The need for a standard

Often there are no standards prescribed for various agencies that are installing cameras. This prevents interoperability, which is yet another challenge in ensuring that the safe city cameras work. According to experts, what is needed the most is the need for an agency that would audit and standardize the use of surveillance systems in the country.

“Often, a project is rushed when there is a need to meet an inauguration date or a public ceremony,” Koottummel summed it up. “But there are no steps to check if the system is installed properly or will be maintained well.”
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