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Technology to revamp crime scene investigations finds no takers

Technology to revamp crime scene investigations finds no takers
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First Published: Wed, Jun 24 2009. 10 27 PM IST

Case study: Vinay Deshpande’s Encore Software made a crime scene recording system that can collect audio and visual information digitally in a tamper-proof manner. The project has been ‘short-closed’.
Case study: Vinay Deshpande’s Encore Software made a crime scene recording system that can collect audio and visual information digitally in a tamper-proof manner. The project has been ‘short-closed’.
Updated: Wed, Jun 24 2009. 10 27 PM IST
Bangalore: Think of a crime scene: The police reach with a hand-held device, record the statements of witnesses, take photographs and videos, prepare the first information report (FIR) and eventually send these to the court data repository via wireless broadband.
Case study: Vinay Deshpande’s Encore Software made a crime scene recording system that can collect audio and visual information digitally in a tamper-proof manner. The project has been ‘short-closed’. Hemant Mishra / Mint
There’s nothing utopian about it. The technology has been locally developed but the end user, the police, is not interested; the funding agency—the department of science and technology (DST)—has no incentive to see the technology in action; and the technology developer, Encore Software Ltd, is caught between the two public agencies.
Bangalore-based Encore, maker of the inexpensive mobile computer Mobilis, has developed a crime scene recording system on the Mobilis platform that can collect audio and visual information digitally in a tamper-proof manner and send the encrypted data to the court server, thus eliminating chances of evidence falsification or delays in filing the FIR.
The project is partly funded by DST’s technology information, forecasting and assessment council (Tifac). The Bangalore police has been a partner in the project since its inception.
Now, four months after Encore placed the Mobilis units for a pilot test at the Cubbon Park police station in central Bangalore, the devices are lying unused and Tifac is “short-closing the project”. This leaves Encore high and dry since it had planned to commercialize the technology nationwide once the pilot was completed.
“We are closing the project as we did not get any cooperation from Bangalore police,” said M. Thamarai Selvan, principal scientific officer at Tifac.
The police and Encore are blaming each other: joint commissioner of police (crime) in Bangalore Alok Kumar says his officials haven’t received any training to use the device; Encore’s chairman and chief executive, Vinay Deshpande, says the police never “bothered to enquire after the devices were placed in the police station”.
So, what’s the outcome?
Nothing. The government’s science-technology schemes don’t work towards outcomes, they are more concerned about disbursement of funds, says Anand Patwardhan, former executive director of Tifac, who demitted office in September to return to the Indian Institute of Technology in Mumbai.
In principle, though, Tifac has to “help in ensuring time availability of technologies by up-scaling successful results from R&D (research and development) laboratories towards commercialization”.
Tifac started a new programme in 2006—Synergising science and technology with judicial process—to experiment with new as well as off-the-shelf technologies that would support the judicial system.
At least five new technology applications have been developed under this, each funded by a sub-crore budget. None of these has evolved beyond the pilot stage.
For instance, Pune-based Impact Systems Pvt. Ltd tested a digital pen and paper technology for capturing information at police stations in Mumbai. Impact used Swedish technology to build applications to suit the Indian police and judiciary.
Similarly, Gujarat-based Trinet Information Services Pvt. Ltd has implemented a case document tracking system using radio frequency identification technology at the Delhi high court. But even after much persuasion, the company hasn’t managed to implement it at any other court, said Brajnandan Kumar, programme developer at Trinet.
While companies that have reached the pilot test stage for their devices still expect the judiciary to start using their technology eventually, the shelved Mobilis project has dashed hopes on two counts: software as well as locally developed hardware.
“Encore’s technology is an ideal example where one could work with the public system (judiciary) since you have a locally developed device that could become the ‘special purpose appliance’ for the country,” says Patwardhan. Incidentally, Mobilis was developed, at least initially, under another government scheme called New Millennium Indian Technology Leadership Initiative.
Former chief of the computer section of the Karnataka high court S.B.N. Prakash, who oversaw the crime scene recording project until he retired in mid-2007, says it is not difficult to test the prototype between the court and the police; “it only requires the will”.
“Many criminal cases end in acquittal because there is delay in filing an FIR… Prosecution often gives the distance as the reason for the delay. But with this tool, transmission of FIR would be almost instant,” said Prakash.
Though Tifac’s mandate is technology development, not deployment, experts say a majority of research projects fail to reach fruition as nobody sees the bigger picture.
“It’s unfortunate but nobody (in the government) takes ownership of any research or thinks about how to scale up,” says Patwardhan.
Encore’s Deshpande doesn’t deny the learning gained from this project, but said, “For a company, that’s not enough.”
Ironically, even as Tifac closes the unfinished Encore project, its website continues to invite applications for new proposals using information and communication technology for judicial processes.
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First Published: Wed, Jun 24 2009. 10 27 PM IST