Crimes against women: Safe City Project dogged by delays, fresh controversy

Last date for submission of bids is January 8 and this time it will go through: Police Commissioner

Eight years after the chilling gang rape in New Delhi that spurned a slew of measures to be initiated for women’s safety, including instituting the Nirbhaya Fund for women safety in metro cities by the then UPA-II government, Bengaluru is still struggling to implement measures under the fund.

The proposal for the Safe City Project, which has been in the thick of controversy resulting in the two sparring IPS officers being transferred recently, was made by the city police in 2013. But it was approved by the Union Ministry of Home Affairs only in 2018. The State government, which will share 40% of the ₹667 crore project cost, took another year to approve the same and finalised it in October 2019. Since then, tenders have been cancelled twice, while the third call is under way and under the lens.

While the first call was cancelled in January 2020 over failure of participants to pass pre-qualification criteria, the second call was cancelled in July 2020 with one of the bidders pitching products from Chinese firm Huawei and the State government banning procurement of Chinese make/origin products in the light of the Galwan Valley clash. Meanwhile, D. Roopa, until recently secretary-PCAS, accused of unauthorised intervention in the tender process over which the government instituted an enquiry, has alleged “bias, violation of norms” in the present tender as well.

The city will be equipped with 7,500 cameras and Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning-powered video monitoring systems, among a host of other measures for women’s safety under the project.

Activist K.S. Vimala came down heavily on the delay in implementation of the project. “The inordinate delay by the Union government and later by the State government exposes the hypocrisy of lip service paid to women safety by the political class,” she said. The project has also come under criticism for the measures it envisages. “It relies heavily on surveillance cameras, which may help the police crack crimes after they happen, but its capacity to prevent crimes is questionable,” Ms. Vimala said, arguing there are other priorities like victim rehabilitation that have completely been given a go by.

However, an officer associated with the project, said cameras were only a small part of the project. “Key addition to the city’s policing infrastructure is a live monitoring facility of feeds from all the cameras – at a centralised control room and at every police station. Video monitoring and analysis systems will be powered by AI and machine learning which can carry out face, form, and colour recognition apart from automated number plate recognition,” he said.

The project also includes establishing 50 safety islands at isolated spots across the city, where any woman can press a buzzer to get into a telephone booth like island and help will rush immediately. A new integrated women’s helpline number, a distress centre, and a counselling centre are part of the project.

Bengaluru city Police Commissioner Kamal Pant, also a member of the State level apex committee monitoring the ongoing tender, said the government was keen on completing the present tender. “The ongoing tender has not been compromised. Though there was an unauthorised attempt to access the ‘Request for Proposal’ before it was published, it was unsuccessful. The last date for submission of bids is January 8 and we will ensure this time it goes through,” he said.

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