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What is causing the CCTNS delay?

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Shuffling among the centre, states and system integrators, mired with delays in digitisation, and hampered with different versions of software, and in limbo for want of funds, can the project of utmost national importance, CCTNS ever get completed in time?

By Mohd Ujaley

In October 2009, the Kolkata police arrested a person and held him in prison for 45 days in connection with a petty theft case and then let him off with a fine of Rs 90 because there was no means of verifying the false name—Md. Arshad— that he gave at the time of his arrest. According to The National Investigation Agency (NIA), he was none other than Mohammed Ahmed Zarar Siddibappa, also known as Yasin Bhatkal, an alleged Indian Mujahideen commander, who is alleged to have subsequently carried out terrorist attacks in Pune, Bangalore, Varanasi, Delhi and Hyderabad.

Would this have happened if there was a system in place to fetch real time data about crime and criminals? Possibly not. That is why in 2009 in the aftermath of the 26/11 attacks in Mumbai, the UPA government launched the Crime and Criminal Tracking Network & Systems (CCTNS) project aimed at digitally connecting all the police stations in the country and digitising all existing FIRs and other crime records. Once digitised, intelligent insights could be drawn by analysing the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) data.

“CCTNS is a bigger vision of the government to connect various police stations digitally and enable the police to take decisions based on real time data related to crime and criminals,” says Rajesh Ramachandran, President and CTO at Rolta India.

Former Union Home Minister P Chidambaram who sanctioned the project was of the view that each police station was an island, where records were maintained manually. The police of any state barely “talked” among themselves, or with the police of other states. Therefore, “a seamless, technology-driven network in which any police station could “talk” to another police station in real time, was needed.”

Supporting the views, Ajai Sahni, Director of the Institute for Conflict Management in New Delhi, told Express Computer, “CCTNS is one of the single most critical project for India’s internal security. Networks like these are a fundamental requirement of modern policing and security management. And, this system is already in place in west since the 1970s.”

Mired in delay

However, since the Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs approved the project on June 19, 2009 with an allocation of Rs 2000 crore, nothing substantial has changed on the ground. Like other e-governance programmes in the country, CCTNS is also shuffling between central nodal agency NCRB, and the nodal agency of states, State Crime Record Bureau (SCRB) and private system integrators (SIs) from the last five years.

In fact, in the two consecutive budgets of 2014-15 and 2015-16, no funds were allocated for CCTNS which seriously hampered the progress of the project. But in the wake of the recent Paris attacks, the government seems to shake off the dust, and has now decided to fast track the project and complete it by March 2017.

Earlier in a written reply in Parliament, Minister of State for Home Affairs, Haribhai Parathibhai Chaudhary attributed the delay to certain states failing to select state system integrators, delaying handing over of the sites and delaying in commissioning of WiMax and VSAT sites.

It is interesting to note that the initial deadline for the project was 2012, which was revised to March 2015. Initially, Rs 37.23 crore were given in the 2012-13 Budget and Rs 120 crore in the 2013-14 Budget. Of the Rs 2,000 crore outlay that includes operation and maintenance up to March 2022, Rs 878 crore has already been released to implementing agencies.

“This project is certainly taking more time than what it was expected because infrastructure for connecting different police stations on the network has not been built fully,” says Ramachandran, adding that the solutions deployment for enabling police stations to use CCTNS is progressing and getting better day by day. “Basically there are two aspects to the network. Each of the states are supposed to have a data centre and then different police stations across the state need to be connected to the network. The problem is whenever there is an update happening in a particular police station, it has to come to a centralised server. This vital part of the infrastructure is yet to be completed.”

Sanjay Sahay, who earlier headed the police computer wing in Government of Karnataka, says that the CCNTS project seems a simple project on face value. However, in reality, it is far different. “It is a complex project as there are multiple central and state agencies involved in it. Police, Law & Order is a state subject and systems across states are not uniform,” points out Sahay.

Basically, a state selects a system integrator, sets up a state data centre (SDC) usually with the help of NIC, and then connects all the police stations with this data centre with the help of connectivity providers such as BSNL. It finally syncs all the SDCs with National Data Centres at New Delhi, Pune and Hyderabad which function as disaster recovery (DR) sites. And, on top of this, the NCRB provides a standard Core Application Software (CAS) which police stations use for lodging FIRs and for entering data.

In each of these cases, there has been substantial delay and even today none of these cases are free from defect. It took until 2013-14 for a major number of states to hire a system integrator. And, in fact, two states—Bihar and Rajasthan—are still in search mode after their flip-flop with the existing SIs.

However, the most troublesome has been the Core Application Software (CAS) provided by NCRB which has proved to be buggy and crash-prone. It took until 2014 for the more stable version 4.1 to be released. Now CAS version 4.5 is planned to be released in a few months and may be followed by CAS version 5.0. But with the release of each version, the state police, SI and SPMU have to undertake a number of activities including analysing, customising and testing, which requires a lot of time and effort. In fact, significant time and effort is spent due to excessive versions of CAS. Therefore, states like Haryana have suggested that the number of versions should be kept at the minimum possible and patches should be released for the modifications so that instead of customising the new CAS versions, the states may incorporate the patches which would need lesser time and effort.

SDCs are mostly in place. As per the NCRB, 21 states are currently using the SDC for CCTNS. In Karnataka, the SDC is operational but not being used for the CCTNS project. Similarly, Delhi and Chandigarh have decided to use the Delhi police data centre and department of IT data centre respectively. In 12 states, SDCs are not operational, and hence these states are using alternate data centres. While a national data centre (NDC) for CCTNS was proposed initially, it faced a problem due to non-allocation of funds. Now all the servers at NDC have been deployed over the NIC cloud network. Currently, connectivity from 26 SDCs out of 36 have been established from NDC over a National Knowledge Network (NKN) and replication from 18 states and union territory have been started.

According to latest data from NCRB, over 11,000 police stations across the country are now using the CCTNS system to register FIRs and over the past one year, more than 26 Lakhs FIRs were registered through CCTNS.

Tryst with system integrators

In 35 states and union territories, 11 companies—TCS, Rolta, Wipro, CMC Limited, Vayam Tech, Tech Mahindra, Navyug Infotech, HP, HCL, NIIT Technologies, Keltron Payoda— are working as system integrators. After carefully analysing the monthly reports sent by state units to NCRB, few things appear to be common across the board—there is delay in data digitisation by SIs, hand holding resources are either of poor quality or yet to be deployed, payment for SIs and SPMUs are pending and there is serious deficiency in different version of CAS.

For example, Haryana, Karnataka and West Bengal have raised the issue of delay in data digitisation, slow progress in completing site preparation and hardware commissioning by the system integrator HP India. Similarly, data migration is yet to be completed in Himachal Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh. Further, according to government officials in Madhya Pradesh, the data which has been migrated with the help of HCL, there are many errors in the migrated record. Other states such as Kerala are also facing the delay issue. Jammu & Kashmir is not happy with the performance of SPMU in field inspection of sites and digitisation of old records. In fact, it is looking to replace the SPMU project manager. Even the basics such as delivery of the paper toners and cartridges which TCS was supposed to start delivering from Feb 2015 to the Police units in Andhra Pradesh, is yet to start, according to the report.

“I agree that digitising the legacy document is a huge challenge. The number of legacy FIRs and other documents that need to be digitised is huge. But I believe that once it is done, the second phase of CCTNS, which is related to crime analysis will bring significant value to the overall police modernisation and will surely help the police in managing the city more efficiently,” says Ramachandran.

Rolta India is a system integrator in three states—Manipur, Mizoram and Arunachal Pradesh. Ramachandran says that today Manipur and Mizoram have gone live with the specific version of the solution, but the coverage for the various district and police stations is not fully established. But from the software solution perspective, the overall deployment on a centralised instance has been successful but the roll out for various police station has still not happened as there are challenges on the network side.

Lack of hand holding support

Some of the states are also struggling with the project as the hand holding resources are either of poor quality or yet to be deployed by SIs. For example, in Manipur, Rolta is yet to deploy a support person. Similarly, TCS has not deployed permanent resource at Lakshadweep.

Same is the case with the Nagaland and Dadra & Nagar Haveli and Daman & Diu. The authorities complain that their system integrator Vayamtech is not offering adequate resources to the project. In Dadra & Nagar Haveli and Daman & Diu, Vayamtech has deployed 3-4 people but according to the report sent to NCRB by the state unit, they are “not working diligently” because the SI has failed to pay them on time.

To seek the comments of different SIs, Express Computer did reach out to most of the system integrators. Except Rolta India, all declined to comment. In fact, HP India, after analysing the questionnaire sent to them, chose not to comment.

“Some of the apathy shown by SIs could be attributed to delay in payment. Most of the states are facing the shortage of funds on account of CCTNS and they have been regularly writing to the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) to release the payment,” says a state government official on condition of anonymity.

Can cloud be the answer?

“We are clearly aware about the problems? Today everything is falling into place except the network. The time has come to look at the alternatives. Today, cost effective cloud infrastructure which can directly “talk” to different networks is available. Different police stations could be connected through a robust and secure cloud network which can be called a CCTNS Cloud. This will help in solving the problem of connecting end-points in CCTNS for sharing the information among police stations” states Ramachandran.

He adds that possibly the earlier approach of connecting on the backbone network infrastructure is going to have its own challenges, and every government — even in developed countries are leveraging the public cloud which is far more effective. In Australia, a secure network created for the states or the state bodies removes the dependency on the point to point network infrastructure.

While the government today is reluctant to adopt the cloud for mission critical projects such as the CCTNS, the apprehension about security in cloud is more about perception and less of education on how the cloud functions. Companies need to create awareness and build confidence. From a technology point of view, the cloud (hybrid or public) is far more robust today, as most cloud service providers take a 360 degree view of security – be it application, data or network security.

Above all, the target to complete the project by March 2017 will largely depend on how smoothly the CCTNS project shuffles among the centre, states and system integrators, and gets the required attention from the finance minister before the 2016-17 budget to address the challenge of want of funds.

The article first appeared in print edition of Express Computer magazine, February 2016 issue. Read it here : Express Computer, February, 2016 

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