Safe City Project dogged by delays and a fresh controversy
Eight years after the chilling gang rape in New Delhi that spurred a slew of measures for women’s safety, including the Nirbhaya Fund for women safety in metro cities, by the then UPA-II government, Bengaluru is still struggling to implement the measures.
The proposal for the Safe City Project, which has been in the thick of a controversy of late, was made by the 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, twice tenders have been cancelled and the third one is under way, but is at risk of being derailed.
While the first tender was cancelled in January 2020 over failure of participants to pass pre-qualification criteria, the second one was cancelled in July 2020 over one of the bidders pitching products from Chinese firm Huawei and the State government banning procurement of Chinese products in the light of the Galwan Valley clash earlier this year.
Meanwhile, D. Roopa, Secretary – PCAS, who is accused of unauthorised intervention in the tender process over which the government has now instituted an inquiry, has alleged “bias, violation of norms” in the present tender as well.
Women 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 lip service paid to women safety by the political class. Where is the home minister when the tender is again threatened of being derailed due to the recent controversies?”
The project has also come under criticism for the women safety measures it envisages for the city. “The project relies heavily on surveillance cameras, which may help the police in cracking 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.
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 safety under the Safe City Project.
However, Hemant Nimbalkar, Member Secretary, State Level Apex Committee monitoring the tender, 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 arrive immediately. A new integrated women’s helpline number, a distress centre and a counselling centre are all part of the project.
Bengaluru Police Commissioner Kamal Pant, also a member of the State Level Apex Committee monitoring the ongoing tender, said the government was keen on going through with the present tender. “The ongoing tender has not been compromised. Though there was an unauthorised attempt to access the RFP before it was published, it was unsuccessful. The last date for submission of bids is on January 8. We will ensure this time it goes through,” he said.
Roopa alleges irregularities
D. Roopa, Secretary – PCAS, who is in the dock for allegedly making an unauthorised attempt to access the classified request for Proposal (RFP) of the Safe City Project tender before it was published, has in a letter to Additional Chief Secretary, Home Department on Monday, described herself as a “whistle-blower” and alleged that the ongoing tender for the project has violated several norms and is “unfair and biased”.
Her letter is also her rebuttal to the officer’s note that challenged her to produce proof that the project file was given to her by him, as she had claimed. In the latest letter, Ms. Roopa said she did not make notings in the file concerned because the file, “though personally given to me by ACS, Home Department to study, was not officially marked to me”. She also said she brought to the notice of the Chief Secretary issues with the tender, following which he invited her to a meeting of the State level apex committee.
The State government has appointed Bengaluru Police Commissioner Kamal Pant to hold an inquiry over her alleged unauthorised attempt to intervene in the tender.
The letter further alleges “bias” and “irregularities” in the ongoing tender. The tender allows lower turnout, participation of a consortium and summing up of turnover of individual firms in the consortium, lowering the entry barrier for the tender, in violation of norms, her letter says.
Hemant Nimbalkar, member, State level apex committee monitoring the tender, on Sunday, had claimed “there had been no complaints of the tender being biased, not even by the bidders”. Ms. Roopa has accused Mr. Nimbalakar of misleading the government and has demanded a probe into his role.
Government keen to avoid further controversy
The State government, unhappy over the public spat between senior IPS officers D. Roopa and Hemant Nimbalkar over the Safe City Project tender, is likely to transfer both out of their present posts to avoid further controversy, sources in the government said. The transfers are likely to happen with other transfers scheduled for January 1, 2021.
“We are keen on going through with the Safe City Project tender this time, already in Call – III and inordinately delayed. The spat is casting aspersions on the tender. It is also reflecting poorly on the State government and the Home Department,” a senior functionary in the government said.