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INSIGHTS

Why Delhi’s claim of more CCTV than London is misleading

Why Delhi’s claim of more CCTV than London is misleading
Without proper solutions in place, the crime rate will not reduce. And if the crime rate remains high even after cameras are in place, the public will lose faith in security surveillance systems.
The Delhi Chief Minister recently announced that the capital city has more video surveillance cameras per square mile than New York, London, and Shanghai. He cited a Forbes India report which claims that Delhi has 1,826.6 cameras per square mile, while London has 1,138. This was based on research from a UK-based research agency, Comparitech.
 
In a tweet, the minister said: "My compliments to the Delhi Government's officers and engineers who worked on the project like a mission and achieved the feat in such a short time."
 
However, while this statistic might sound great on paper and can bolster the image of authorities, not everyone is convinced that the numbers are accurate. We spoke to systems integrators and consultants working in Delhi to understand the ground reality and found five major issues with this announcement.
  1. The numbers really don't make sense

On their website, Comparitech claims that they collected data from a number of resources for this research, and for the most part, included only cameras installed by government agencies.
 
Dr. Rajiv Mathur, Advisor to Outstanding Security Performance Awards (OSPA), points out that Delhi has an area of 573 square miles. Going by Comparitech's data, this would mean there are about 10 lakh (1 mil) cameras in Delhi, which sounds a bit too good to be true.  
 
"I really don't know if this number is accurate because the figure, I am aware of, which is in the public domain, is about 236,000 cameras," Mathur said. "Out of this, the Delhi government had a plan to install around 140,000 cameras. This has been going on for about five years but had stopped after partial work because of COVID-19 and some other reasons."
  1. Does Delhi know how many cameras it needs?

This is an even more interesting point. In Comparitech's report, even though Delhi ranks first in cameras per square mile, the city is 16th on cameras per person. That itself brings up the question, how many cameras does Delhi need? Is there a system in place to assess this?
 
"Are so many cameras really needed is an important point that needs to be looked at," explains Shantanu Talegaonkar, MD of ASG Security India. "Very clearly, there hasn't been a plan, or a survey or methodology to arrive at the proper number of cameras and coverage areas, to define what needs to be deployed. So the number, though high, may not be meeting the exact requirements to cover the city in the most appropriate scientific way."
 
Delhi has a population of 29,259 per square mile, while the city of London has just 7,700, according to the website World Population Review. So, is it even reasonable to compare Delhi and London for this matter?
  1. Most cameras in Delhi are privately owned

We may never know the actual number of surveillance cameras installed in Delhi. But what integrators and consultants are sure that most of the cameras in the city are installed by private businesses and residential associations because they want to secure their premises.
 
"Delhi may have more cameras because the private shopkeepers, offices, and homes are installing the cameras because of increased awareness about security," explains Sandeep Uppal, Owner of the systems integration company, SVS International. "This could be why Delhi has the highest number of cameras, not because the government installs them."
 
Shantanu Talegaonkar, MD of ASG Security India, also pointed out that the number that Comparitech has come up with is definitely not that of cameras installed by the government.
 
"If the government deploys them, there would be a tendering process and other things data to support it, but we don't find that level of numbers," Talegaonkar said. "So, claiming to have the highest number of cameras may be fine – but you're just lucky to have so many people willing to spend on their own rather than the government."
  1. You may have cameras, but how many are working?

Lack of maintenance is one of the biggest problems plaguing security installations in the country. In a separate interview with asmag.com, Mathur had given an example of a project that the Delhi government had planned with Resident Welfare Associations.
 
"RWA office bearers change every year," Mathur had said. "When the leadership changes, there are questions about who will care for 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."
 
This problem is not limited to Delhi. Speaking to asmag.com for the same article, Jacob Koottummel, ELV Consultant at Techwise, had also pointed out that defunct cameras were a primary concern. He even gave the example of a busy traffic junction in Kerala with several cameras installed, none functioning.
 
Since most cameras may be privately owned, there is no mechanism to check if the devices are still functioning. There have been several instances of people finding out that their surveillance cameras were not working only after an incident. In short, although there are cameras, there is no clue how many are useful.
  1. Is there a way to make use of these cameras?

Finally, even in the unlikely scenario that there are 1 million cameras in Delhi, what systems are in place to use the footage? With continuous recording, such a large number of cameras will generate a massive amount of data. To handle this, you will need robust video management systems and control centers.
 
"How can you ensure that the footage from these many cameras is viewed, monitored, and utilized to prevent the crime," Talegaonkar said. "Preventing crime is the main intention of having so many cameras. But if we don't make proper use of the data captured, we won't see a reduction in the crime rate. Also, whatever is deployed, is it going to give you a long-term solution with analytics or artificial intelligence, which can help you automate a lot of things?"
 
Mathur also pointed out that without integrating and automating these cameras installed by different agencies, you cannot take full advantage of them. No one is going to be able to sit and manually monitor footage from thousands of cameras.

Endnote 

Over the last few years, central and state governments across India have given more importance to video surveillance for crime prevention. This is a good development. Of course, there are concerns about cameras turning India into a surveillance state. But with proper rules and regulations in place, the pros outweigh the cons.
 
However, celebrating the number of cameras as we saw in Delhi only helps to send the wrong message. Without proper solutions in place, the crime rate will not reduce. And if the crime rate remains high even after cameras are in place, the public will lose faith in security surveillance systems.
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