The curious case of Gautam Gambhir’s CCTV plan

The BJP MP says he’s already installed 3 CCTVs as part of a larger plan for women’s safety—but did due process for the installation take place?

WrittenBy:Abhineet Nayyar
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On June 22, newly elected BJP MP Gautam Gambhir unveiled with great fanfare his proposal to install 50 CCTV cameras in his constituency. Announcing that a company called Hawkeye Systems had already installed three CCTVs in Delhi’s Kondli Chowk, he took a jab at Delhi CM Arvind Kejriwal’s “false promises”, whose flagship programme of installing CCTVs in the capital still hasn’t seen the light of day. But barely 48 hours later, Hawkeye withdrew from Gambhir’s projects, citing “too much politics”, and the project itself has reportedly been scrapped. 

Kejriwal’s own plans of installing 2,000 CCTVs in each of Delhi’s 70 Assembly constituencies ran into multiple problems across four years, though the chief minister recently stated that it would finally kick off this month. In May 2018, the Lieutenant-Governor’s office had issued an order stipulating the “urgent need” to establish a standard operating procedure for the “installation, operation, monitoring of CCTVs in public spaces and other related issues”. It emphasised the need for norms regarding “storage, monitoring, access and sharing of CCTV footage … keeping in view the privacy and security concerns”, saying the use of surveillance camera systems “should not be permitted to become a tool to violate privacy of individuals which is considered to be a fundamental right”.

Unsurprisingly, Gambhir’s own announcement met with similar criticism on social media, with the Internet Freedom Foundation asking him to “consider the need for a legal framework for the protection of informational privacy and safety prior to such installations in his constituency”.

So how did Gambhir’s team install CCTVs at all without framing a standard operating procedure and without clearance from the Delhi Cabinet—a necessity in undertakings like this? 

According to stipulated rules, after clearance, the Cabinet would allow a government body, likely to be the Public Works Department, to publish a Request For Proposal in newspapers and on the government’s website, which would include eligibility criteria of the prospective bidders to the technical requirements of the project to the scope of work and demands of the project’s authoriser. This is followed by a pre-bid meeting, wherein interested players sit down with the government representatives to suggest changes in the proposal, as necessary. Once bids are submitted by private and public contractors, only then is one of them awarded the contract.

Intriguingly, Gambhir’s plan circumvented this lengthy bureaucratic process. Hawkeye installed the CCTVs because they “volunteered” to do so. 

Newslaundry contacted Surjit Singh, the proprietor of Hawkeye. Singh reiterated he’s now “withdrawn” from Gambhir’s project, given the “controversy” that’s sprung up over Hawkeye’s involvement without due process. He said, “Hum toh acha kaam kar rhe the. Itni badi controversies ho rahi hai, toh hum kyun kaam karein fir bekaar mein (We were doing a good work. If controversies like these keep springing up, then why should we even work)?”

Newslaundry asked Singh about the details of access for the CCTVs, considering they’ve already been installed in Kondli Chowk. Singh said the cameras would not be indulging in real-time display; instead, the recorded video would be stored at particular sites and won’t be available online. When asked about the safety of the recordings, Singh said he didn’t know. Breaking into a helpless laugh, he said: “Mere ko inka idea acha laga tha, toh maine thoda contribute karne ke liye kara tha. Iska itna bada issue ban gaya (I had just liked their idea, and as a result, had thought to contribute. The issue has blown out of proportion now).”

Newslaundry reached out to Gaurav Arora, a member of Gambhir’s team. Arora emphasised that women’s safety was an important issue for Gambhir, and installing CCTVs in Gambhir’s constituency was meant to be a step in that direction. When asked about the matter of storage of feeds, he said, “The Digital Video Recorder for the camera feed would be kept in a nearby government school, and appropriate permissions have been taken by the school authorities. Whenever the police need it for any purpose, they can go over with a pen-drive and get it.”

What about questions of privacy and proper procedure? Arora said, “Agr koi apni wish se kahe main samaaj ke liye kuch krna chahta hu, toh? Agr koi kambal baantta hai, toh usko permission chaiye kya? Koi wheelchair baantta hai, toh usko permission chaiye kya (If someone wants to work for the society, then what? If someone wants to distribute blankets or wheelchairs, they don’t need permission, do they)?” 

He added: “Problem sirf Aam Aadmi party ko ye hai k 4.5 saal se vo so rahi thi aur aaj apne logo ko activate kra hai Twitter pr. Acha kaam krne ke liye permission kya chaiye kisi ko? (The only people who have a problem is the Aam Aadmi Party, who had been sleeping for the past four-and-a-half years, and now they’ve activated their members on Twitter. What sort of permission do you need to do good)?”

Given Hawkeye’s subsequent withdrawal from the project, Arora said, “Problem sirf Aam Aadmi party ko hai. Acha kaam na khud karenge, na karne denge (The only group that has a problem with this is Aam Aadmi Party. Neither will they work, nor will they let anyone else work).” He added: “Voh (AAP) toh threat kar rhe hain camera wale ko bhi (They are also threatening the camera person).” 

In should be noted that Singh told Newslaundry there wasn’t any form of interference from the Aam Aadmi Party. 

Neighbourhoods and installations

Arora told Newslaundry that Kalyanpuri police station granted Gambhir’s team the necessary local permissions for the installation of CCTVs. He said, “The list of sensitive crime-prone areas was handed over by the DCP office, and our officials with the police officers used that list to put up cameras in respective locations.”

The Kalyanpuri police station’s station house officer, Lekh Raj Singh, told Newslaundry the police station was only responsible for choosing important spots to put up the cameras. On the question of permissions to put up the camera, the SHO shrugged and said, “We don’t know about this. We were told by the DCP office to give them the list of vulnerable spots, and we did.” 

Meanwhile, Jasmeet Singh, DCP East, told Newslaundry that his office only provided a list of “vulnerable stretches” to Gambhir’s team and Hawkeye, and the installation of cameras hadn’t been brought to their notice yet.

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CCTV cameras installed at Kondli Chowk.

But when Newslaundry visited Kondli Chowk, one of the “vulnerable stretches”, three CCTV cameras were positioned at the intersection—the cameras that Gambhir said Hawkeye had installed.  One overlooks a temple and the other a school, Rajkiya Sarvodaya Baalika/Bal Vidyalaya, Kondli, which is also where an Endroid DVR has been placed.

School authorities claim that police personnel had accompanied the electricians and set up the entire module. They also told Newslaundry that they were asked by the police to not divulge any information regarding the details of the setup to the media. Police authorities confirmed to Newslaundry that Mukesh, a constable, was one of the police officers that had accompanied Hawkeye Systems.

Newslaundry also visited two other areas on the list of vulnerable stretches: Chand Cinema Road and Supershine Chowk. Chand Cinema Road did not have any cameras set up. However, on visiting Supershine Chowk, Newslaundry witnessed the real-time installation of cameras. The electrician said they were being installed under the Delhi government’s scheme. 

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CCTV cameras at Supershine Chowk.

So while Gambhir’s team put the onus of the installation on police support, Kalyanpuri police station and DCP Jasmeet Singh said their only involvement was to provide a list of crime-prone areas. Given the multiple conversations on privacy and security that surround CCTV cameras, it’s curious how Gautam Gambhir got this done in the first place.


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