Earlier last week, Honeywell Automation Pvt Ltd announced that it would lead the Bengaluru Safe City project under the Nirbhaya Fund by the Government of India. An initiative by the Ministry of Home Affairs, the project aims to build safe, secure and empowering environment for women and girls in the aftermath of a horrifying rape incident in New Delhi in 2016.
The contract valued at Rs 496.67 crores entails building infrastructure across Bengaluru through extensive use of audio-video systems, drones and CCTVs. It had unfortunately landed into controversy last year after gross irregularities were reported in the tender process of the contract.
Bengaluru is one of the eight cities chosen for the government’s Safe City project, which involves identification of hot spots of crimes against women, scaling infrastructure, technology advancement and capacity building in the community through awareness programs.
Honeywell Automation, which won the bid for Bengaluru’s Safe City Project, said it will build an integrated Command and Control Centre to manage a state-of-the-art video system that features more than 7,000 CCTV cameras deployed at more than 3,000 public locations across the city.
The company says the video system will offer advanced video analysis, including facial recognition technology, a “Dial 100” application and drones. The upgradation of the city police department’s existing Suraksha app is also planned, which the company said would help improve incident response rate and citizen engagement.
The company further added that project will be implemented in phases and it will operate and maintain the security infrastructure for five years.
“For more than 30 years, Honeywell has supported India’s growth with differentiated technologies, working to make our cities safer, smarter and more connected,” Ashish Gaikwad, the president of Honeywell India, said.
The organisation insisted that its solutions would provide actionable insights that city authorities and municipalities could use to improve their situational awareness, economic development and quality of life for residents. Honeywell further said that it has delivered similar projects under the Smart Cities Mission across multiple states, including Odisha, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh and Gujarat.
The Safe City project in Bengaluru had hit a snag last year after senior IPS officer and Home Secretary D Roopa levelled serious allegations of several irregularities observed in the bidding process of the project. OpIndia had then reported in detail the controversy surrounding Bengaluru’s Safe City project.
Whistleblower D Roopa finds gross irregularities in Bengaluru’s Safe City project
It all began with a report stating that a woman IPS officer in Karnataka had impersonated the state Home Secretary i.e, D Roopa, to seek classified details regarding the ‘Safe City’ project that is being funded by the centre’s Nirbhaya Fund. A report by Times of India had then claimed that the Bengaluru City police was not happy with the officer’s interference in the project even as the process of selecting the bidder was underway.
The Home Secretary had found serious irregularities in the RFP of the tender document for the ‘Safe City’ project when she studied the Nirbhaya Safe City project file in the Home Department. D Roopa clarified in detail stating that it was she who called the Ernst & Young officials to know the details pertaining to the tender documents, with the intention of ensuring that the tender process did not favour any single bidder.
D Roopa, a whistleblower in the case, found several irregularities in the bidding process and added that she only contacted the consultant firm to seek details on the manner in which tenders are being drafted to allegedly favour one firm.
Following the intervention by the female cop to seek the details of the tender over allegations of irregularities in the project, IGP Hemant Nimbalkar, the husband of Congress MLA Anjali Nimbalkar, who is the Chairman of Nirbhaya Tender Inviting Committee and chairman of Tender Scrutinising Committee, had filed a complaint with the chief secretary stating that the officer unauthorisedly tried to “access classified information before the publication of tender for wrongful gains”.
Irregularities in the tender process
The tender inviting and bidding process of Bengaluru Safe City project envisaged to make the city safer for women and children by installing over 7,500 CCTV cameras, was being allegedly influenced to favour a particular vendor. It is pertinent to note that Hemant Nimbalkar IPS is the Chairman of both Tender Inviting Committee and chairman of Tender Scrutinising Committee of the ‘Safe City’ Project.
The proposal for the ‘Safe City’ Project, was first mooted by the police in 2013. However, it was approved by the Modi government only in 2018. Under the project, the centre will grant 60 per cent of the total funds, while the State government has to spend the remaining 40 per cent. The state government approved the project in October 2019. Since then, the tender process has been cancelled twice and the third one is underway but is at risk of being allegedly influenced to favour a single vendor.
The first RFP that was floated got cancelled in January 2020 over the failure of participants to pass pre-qualification criteria. The process started for the second time in June this year but was cancelled after one of the prospective bidders had pitched products from Chinese firm Huawei. The tender was cancelled in the light of the recent ban imposed on Chinese products by the Centre and the state government after the Galway Valley clash earlier this year.
Interestingly, the Bharat Electronics Limited, one of the bidders in the tender process, was in fact the first one to whistleblow pertaining to the irregularities in the project. After the tender process began for the first time in November 2019, the Bharat Electronics Limited (BEL) had written a letter to the Commissioner of Police, Bengaluru highlighting how the Request For Proposal (RFP) for inviting tender in the ‘Safe City’ project was drafted in such a way that it unreasonably favoured one of the two vendors.
In its letter, the Navratna company, which has a rich experience of delivering similar projects, noted to Bengaluru Police Commissioner that the tender inviting process has itself put the other bidders in a disadvantageous position despite having vast experience in the similar projects. The BEL, flagging the irregularities, said that some of the provisions of the tender also violated CVC guidelines.
The tender process was subsequently cancelled and was later floated again under a fresh administration in the police commissionerate.