New Delhi: In the wake of the Mumbai terror attack, India’s research agencies plan to establish a centre that would exclusively develop and promote civilian security technologies and systems, a top official said.
Countering terrorism: Union science minister Kapil Sibal. His ministry is funding entrepreneurs to develop security applications. Harikrishna Katragadda / Mint
The Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) and the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) are likely to be part of such a research centre, said a senior CSIR official.
“We are still in the process of finalizing a concrete proposal to set up a dedicated centre for developing counterterrorism technologies,” the official said on condition of anonymity.
CSIR—the country’s largest publicly funded research body—is expected to be the nodal agency to coordinate efforts to set up the unit, he said.
“The major task at hand is to find out which technologies are out there (in Indian laboratories), aggregate them and see if they have applications in security and counterterrorism,” the official said.
Currently, DRDO—an arm of the defence ministry—alone develops technologies related to armed combat. Most security systems now in use in India are imported, the official said.
There are very few indigenously developed systems that can be used to counter terrorism, he said, adding they don’t enjoy much popularity despite being cheap and effective.
He gave the example of SATHI, or Situational Awareness and Tactical Handheld Information, a personal digital device that soldiers can use on the field. It allows a team of, say, commandos in an operation to be constantly in touch without having to speak to one another.
“With the device attached to their chests, soldiers can be in constant touch with a central command facility, (and) exchange and respond to orders with single-button pushes,” said Vinay Deshpande, chief executive, Encore Software Ltd, a Bangalore-based firm that has developed the technology for SATHI. Similar systems in the US and Israel cost around $8,000 (about Rs3.88 lakh) each, whereas SATHI costs some $2,000, Deshpande said.
Although the device was developed in collaboration with the Indian Army, only 500 pieces have been sold since it was made commercially available in 2005.
“I wouldn’t say there has been a marked rise in enquiries since the Mumbai terror attack,” said Deshpande.
“Even if it is devices such as SATHI, you need relevant (government) agencies to give you (for instance) maps of regions,” said V.S. Arulraj, former adviser to the ministry of defence and a professor at the Indian Institute of Technology, Kanpur.
Arulraj said such devices alone are not enough and coordinated inputs from various government agencies are required to make the use of such technologies effective. “Getting these external inputs can be the difficult part,” he added.
The ministry of science and technology has also been funding entrepreneurs to develop security applications, but they are in early-stage trials.
“We are funding an intelligent alert system, in which the police can use a camera that can instantly relay pictures of a suspicious person to a central server, which can alert them within seconds whether the picture matches that of anyone with a criminal record,” said a senior scientist at the ministry, who didn’t want to be identified. He declined to disclose details on the inventor and a time frame for the device to be commercialized.
After the Jaipur bomb explosions in May that killed at least 60 people, the science and technology ministry announced a Rs24 crore security technology initiative aimed at identifying miscreants.
“This system is still being tested at the New Delhi Railway Station,” said science minister Kapil Sibal.