With the installation of 1.4 lakh Chinese CCTV cameras by the AAP government, massive controversy erupts. This comes amid anti-Chinese sentiment simmering across the country after the recent Galwan Valley faceoff.
The Centre has taken a slew of measures to keep Chinese firms off Indian projects. On Monday, India banned 59, mostly Chinese, mobile apps including Bytedance’s TikTok and Tencent’s WeChat to counter security threats posed by them.
In the national capital, the CCTV cameras that have been installed are manufactured by Chinese company Hikvision. Experts said the firm’s mobile application that thousands of people in Delhi have downloaded on their phones poses a bigger surveillance threat.
The BJP has targeted the AAP government over the issue and sought an immediate course correction, prompting Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal to say, “It’s all politics.”
“CCTV cameras alone are not a threat, but when people download Hikvision’s iVMS-4500 app to watch live feed on their mobile phones, it becomes a threat,” said cyber security expert Anuj Aggarwal.
“The app can be easily accessed by any company official or the government or the Army in China. In such hostile situations, they can see what’s happening on Delhi’s roads. These cameras have no safety features to block such intrusions. They are quite vulnerable,” he added.
Pawan Duggal, an expert of cyber law, said, “Hikvision’s CCTV cameras have been installed in various corporate and government premises. Now people are happy that they are getting feed on their mobile phones. But there’s a reason to worry because this feed is also going to China and is even potentially accessed by the Chinese army.”
“If it’s going to happen, then see the impact it’s going to make on not just you but even on India as a nation. It’s China’s good game plan. China very early realised the significance of cyber security and India is very fertile,” Duggal said.
When India Today TV visited Bhagirathi Palace, the largest electronics market in Delhi, it was found flooded with such cameras, mostly because they come cheap.
Vijay Sethi, a shop owner, said that the price of one device ranges from Rs 1,200 to 3,500. “Almost all come from China. In the current situation, traders want goods coming from China should stop and Indian brands shall be promoted,” he said.
According to recent reports, the US said Hikvision and 19 other firms are either owned or controlled by the Chinese military.
The Trump administration has prohibited government agencies from purchasing from Hikvision, one of the world’s largest video surveillance companies producing both hardware and software tools.
The company has also been banned in some European countries due to its alleged involvement with China’s army and government.
In July last year, the AAP dispensation directed the Public Works Department (PWD) to expeditiously buy 1.5 lakh CCTV cameras for installation in and around residential and commercial complexes across Delhi to keep its poll promise. This was in addition to the 1.4 lakh ‘eyes in the sky’ that the Delhi government had installed across the capital.
The Rs 571-crore project aimed to have at least 4,000 such cameras in each of the 70 Assembly constituencies of Delhi. Additionally, Rs 400 crore was spent on installing such cameras in 1,000 Delhi government schools. Before this, 4,388 CCTV cameras monitored by the Delhi Police were installed in police stations, court premises, markets and other sensitive areas.
An additional 2.45 lakh are there across the city under a community policing initiative called ‘Nigehbaan’.
Hikvision won a tender from the Delhi government to install 1.5 lakh CCTV cameras in 2018. It is also listed as a vendor by Bharat Electronics (BEL), which works on highly sensitive and classified defence projects for the government of India.
The opposition has demanded immediate disengagement with Hikvision and removal of the app.
“Ironically, even the server is based in China. Based on the feed and data of these cameras, they can see every spot in the National capital. Delhi government is saying that they gave contract to BEL but they should answer why made-in-China cameras were installed,” said senior BJP leader Shahnawaz Hussain.
Delhi BJP leader Harish Khurana said, “Recently, CM Kejriwal said India is battling a dual battle against China – one at the border and the other against coronavirus. So Chinese companies shall be kicked out as they are threat to national security.”
Before the ambitious project was rolled out, Congress had in May last year flagged the issue and accused the AAP government of “compromising national security” by giving the contract to Hikvision. Then Delhi Congress president Ajay Maken called for Kejriwal’s resignation over the accusation.
“It’s all politics. I don’t want to get into this. We gave the tender to BEL, a government of India PSU. Who they are procuring from is their business. Commenting on this is all politics right now,” he told India Today TV on Monday.
He also suggested that more steps should be taken to reduce dependence on Chinese goods after the Galwan incident.