IISc to lead search for indigenous systems

IISc to lead search for indigenous systems

New Delhi: The Union government has finally set the ball rolling on tapping indigenously developed technology and advanced surveillance systems to improve internal security, two years after it first announced the programme and nearly nine months after the Mumbai terror attack.

The department of science and technology (DST) tasked the Indian Institute of Science (IISc), Bangalore, in July with identifying specific technologies and coordinating organizations and individuals already developing such know-how.

“We have about 15 proposals from people and organizations across the country," said N. Balakrishnan, associate director, IISc, Bangalore.

Though it isn’t clear yet what specific technologies the government has in mind, Balakrishnan said the project would cover four broad areas: Materials detection, information security, video analytics and large-scale data mining.

Essentially, these have to do with collecting a wide range of data such as travel history, educational qualifications, biometrics from a large number of people and preparing risk profiles of them.

Though the Centre has earmarked only Rs35 crore for the project, Balakrishnan emphasizes that funds are not going to be a problem. “This is a large project, where civil and defence agencies are closely going to work with each other. (T.) Ramasami (the incumbent DST secretary) will even provide (Rs)3,500 crore if need be," he said.

The United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government had previously said it would harness indigenous technology for combating terror attacks.

Less than a week after a series of blasts on 13 May 2008 killed 60 people in Jaipur, then Union science minister Kapil Sibal said the government had imported a surveillance system from a US firm (he didn’t specify which) that was to be customized to Indian conditions and tested at the New Delhi railway station.

This was to be done by the Faridabad-based Central Electronics Ltd (CEL), a public sector unit. S.K. Kaicker, chairman and managing director, CEL, said preliminary tests were still on and the system was yet to be implemented.

In a recent lecture, P.S. Goel, head, Recruitment and Assessment Centre, Defence Research and Development Organisation, said the organization had developed a variety of bombs and communication systems that could have been used by the National Security Guards commandos who battled terrrorists during the Mumbai attack in November.

“These were developed over many years...but unless they are used, it has no value," he told Mint.

Another scientist with Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), who didn’t want to be identified, said CSIR too had funded research projects with the private sector to develop security-related technology. However, they hadn’t progressed beyond pilot trials.

One of them was Mobilis, a communication system that allows soldiers in an operation to be constantly in touch with a central command via a handheld device, developed by Bangalore-based Encore Software Ltd. “It was to be taken up by the Indian Army for testing...but they never picked it up," the official added.

Vinay Deshpande, chief executive officer of Encore Systems, couldn’t be immediately reached for comment.

Balakrishnan, however, says this specific project was “result-oriented" and in the next few years would contribute to a fundamental change in the way technology is used to bolster internal security. “After Mumbai, there’s a much greater level of seriousness across the government...that will pull this project a long distance," he said.