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Prospects of e-governance for India‘s internal security

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Dr Amitabh RajanHi-tech internal security market in India has not yet acquired robustness to seamlessly handle the supply-side. Seamlessness is also a business-cycle problem in contract-management in the information-technology sector across the country, says Dr Amitabh Rajan, former home secretary of Maharashtra, in conversation with Gopi Krishna Arora of Elets News Network (ENN). 

What are the core techno-economic issues in India‘s internal security?

Capability building is the first issue, adaptability the second, and value for public money the third. Technology, in any domain, should be appropriate, sensitive to the user, and cost-effective. In internal security operations, technology gives a tactical advantage, but only when it has been chosen discursively, adopted systematically, and procured honestly.

But internal security is not just effective technology. 

Technology gives a tactical advantage, but that advantage should be used in public interest– i.e. to maintain law on one hand and contain public order on the other. It is a tough task in actual situations, one which requires a state of tranquil mind that cares deeply, not just for rights accruing from professional power but equally for duties towards the society as a whole.

How do you then, conceptualise the prospects of e-governance for India’s internal security maintenance?

 I see the prospects ethically, in terms of grievance-redressal and conflict-management. In India, we witness initiation of efforts on both, but these processes have to stabilise: there are too many experiments, often vender-driven. Things will improve only when procurements are prudent and the user of the module is the focus of sustained attention. In internal security, time is of the essence, whether it is success of the human rights grievance-redress system in offices or technological modernisation of police forces in the field.

Hi-tech internal security market in India has not yet acquired robustness to seamlessly handle the supply-side. Seamlessness is also a business-cycle problem in contract-management in the information-technology sector across the country. Reports of Comptroller and Auditor-General of India on the Scheme of the Modernisation of the Police Forces, and several other IT-projects of the internal security sector highlight the phenomena. There is an urgent need in the country to strengthen integrated finance wings in the police formations by giving them full autonomy on techno-financial concurrence.

How appropriate is the Government of India-module of CPGRAMS for the Home Departments to handle complaints on human rights violations?

Complaints Registration and Monitoring System (CPGRAMS), by now, sustained the test of time. It is an effective aid to governance; and, with a fifth version and improved linguistic facilitation, is fit to be widely used. It gives the complainant a registration number, flags issues before the administration and saves substantial transaction-costs. Some State Governments have gone beyond the usual. Maharashtra has set a time-limit of twenty-one days for redress and asked complainants to rate the level of their satisfaction with the outcome.

Input-flows to the CPGRAMS have increased substantially. The crux of the problem, however, is monitoring. Ultimately, the head of the system should care for the ethics of transparency and accountability in governance, and not merely be happy with perfunctory or ad-hoc solutions. He should be a person with cardinal virtues, capable of monitoring in the spirit of service and human rights. Since such virtues are rare to find in systems, citizens must demand an overarching framework of law to get their grievances redressed as a matter of right. Till then, oversight bodies (such as Home Departments, Human Rights Commissions, Police Complaints Authorities & Lokayuktas) can use CPGRAMS by adding a mechanism for accountability into the monitoring-system.

What is your assessment of the CCTNS in achieving its desired objectives?

The name Crime and Criminal Tracking Network and Systems (CCTNS), itself explains the objectives. It is going to be a major tracking system in the Indian criminal justice system through e-governance, and a great help in linking all police stations, supervising offices, forensic labs, prisons, and courts. This all-India project was started in the year 2009 and is still being implemented. It could have been implemented faster, in a mode of better coordination between the IT-staff on contract and the custodians of crime records in government. The speed of internet in districts has also been a perpetual problem in network-management.  Overall, however, there is progress at sight now, but it is a project with huge cost-overruns.

CCTV Network Surveillance has now come up in Mumbai. What are its further prospects?

CCTV Network Surveillance Project of Mumbai is a state-of-the-art system technically, and a replicable revenue-model for choice of technology and awarding contract. A lot of thinking has gone into the project to

(i) ensure optimality of data storage,

(ii) insulation from hacking,

(iii) strategizing installation of cameras,

(iv) planning retrieval process and linkage, and

(v) crafting change-management. It was also implemented enthusiastically, within the given contractual time-frame. The list of benefits from this Network Surveillance are many —

(i) seamlessly recording visual evidence,

(ii) coordinating operational action, and

(iii) synergising crime records analytics.  

 CCTV Network Surveillance is universally used as a method to facilitate city policing. Its demand is increasing, despite high investment costs. Recurring costs too, are high due to innovations in network surveillance solutions. A robust public policy on CCTV Network Surveillance Technology Investment is needed. This policy should emerge from the domain of techno-economic experience, and focus on the insights from the volatile high-tech market of digital technology: impact on crime should be studied to assess returns on investment. The Government of United Kingdom has done this, and benefited. There is also an urgent need to synergise CCTV Networks with CCTNS: we can study the method of the City of London Police for getting a clear approach on this.

Base transmission towers in Inaccessible Areas has been a major decision of the Union Government. What has been its context?

On 20th August 2014, India’s Union Cabinet decided to install 2199 base transmission towers for providing mobile telephonic services in remote and infrastructure-deficit areas affected by Left Wing Extremism. Even there, the challenge was met through three innovative solutions– (i) solar power, (ii) VSAT & (iii) Universal Obligation Fund. Later, in February 2016, 175 more towers were sanctioned, with upgraded facilities. The implementation-record, in terms of cost and time-frame, is credible. It is a lesser-narrated example of India’s techno-financial excellence.

These towers of connectivity have given a tremendous advantage to the security forces and the people. Security forces can now gather intelligence on a regular basis, reach the victims faster, coordinate grievance-redressal speedily, prevent sabotage systemically, and establish contact in the social world intensely. The public sphere too, has been democratically charged. Care has been taken to protect and maintain the scarce-resource. Towers have been installed near the police stations (at times in the premises themselves), and technical staff has been given the respect they deserve as solution-providers & knowledge-managers of the installed system.

Crime Mapping, Analytics and Predictive System is the newest app introduced by the Government of India. To what extent it is going to help the country?

 Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) has recently equipped the Delhi Police with personal digital assistant devices connected to a central processor which, with space technology, can (i) store records of criminals, (ii) operationalise crime-mapping, (iii) access vital information in real time, (iv) convert distress-calls into digital message, with location of the caller, and (v) visualise data as cluster maps. Through this technique, India enters the domain of predictive and analytical policing, which, even in developed countries, is an emerging discipline of criminology.

Nonetheless, global best-practices of analytics can help. The focus here is on five areas — (i) trends of crimes, (ii) location of crime-clusters, (iii) identity of offenders, (iv) methods of crime, and (v) likelihood of victims. Street procession mapping is another area from which insights have been generated. From policy-sciences point of view, this tool is an excellent help in course-correction, provided we use data in the context of their limitations. Strategies we intend to counter may deviate conscientiously from the past or social prejudices may unconsciously get subsumed in the categories we set to define in the binary mode of offender/victim.

( Dr Rajan is holds a PhD degree on sociological jurisprudence from Jawaharlal Nehru University, and is the author of an influential book titled Sociology of Human Rights (2002). This interaction develops the theme of e-governance from the talk he recently delivered in Queen Elizabeth-II Hall in London on the ‘Techno-Economic Dimensions of the Modernisation of the Police Force’. Dr Rajan was the Leader of Government of India’s e-Office Mission of the National e-Governance Plan, and a Member of the Governing Council of International Institute of Administrative Sciences, Brussels.)

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