Crime and Criminal Tracking Network System hit by technical problems; slow execution in States

Late in November 2009, police officers in Kolkata filled out a form recording the arrest of a slight young man they had detained in connection with a fake-currency racket. Muhammad Ashraf, the records show, was 173 centimetres tall, had black eyes and a slight beard. Police failed to make the charge stick, and Ashraf emerged from jail eight weeks later.

In the months since, Delhi Police investigators have discovered Ashraf was in fact Muhammad Zarar Siddibapa — a top Indian Mujahideen commander alleged to have been responsible for the 2010 bombing of the German Bakery in Pune, last year's attacks at Mumbai's Zaveri Bazaar, and a string of earlier terrorist strikes.

Highly placed government sources have told The Hindu that an ambitious new project designed to prevent debacles like Siddibapa's effortless evasion of India's criminal justice system is almost certain to miss its promised launch this year.

First conceived off six months before 26/11, the Ministry of Home Affairs' (MHA) Crime and Criminal Tracking Network System or CCTNS would allow real-time sharing of information between the country's 14,000-plus police stations, as well as 6,000 police headquarters — finally giving India's law-enforcement agencies a tool their counterparts in many countries take for granted.

In a December 2009 speech, Home Minister P. Chidambaram lamented the fact that India's police stations were “virtually unconnected islands.” “There is no record of crimes or criminalsthat can be accessed by a Station House Officer, except the manual records relating to that police station.”

Endless delays

Four years on, though, that is still true. Even though police forces across the country have purchased computers and allocated rooms for CCTNS units, neither the software nor the infrastructure needed to power the system is anywhere near ready.

National Crime Records Bureau data accessed by The Hindu shows that only 17 of 35 States and Union territories had, by end-April, signed contracts with system integrators — responsible for making sure the different elements of the network can communicate with each other. Eleven States and Union territories, the data shows, haven't even signed service agreements for the system's Internet backbone, while only 16 have firmed up agreements for data-storage facilities.

Meanwhile, seven States and Union territories have been forced to reopen bids, because of procedural problems, while others are still engaged in negotiations to reconcile costs with the MHA's standards. Elsewhere, there have been problems because different vendors have put in wildly-different bids.

Even the core software that will power the system, designed by software giant Wipro, is still being brought up to speed. Based on trials in three States, documents seen by The Hindu show, a core group chaired by MHA Additional Secretary B Bhamathi, has held multiple meetings since March on problems ranging from which data-fields ought be mandatory for all States, to the system's multi-language capabilities and bugs that lead the application to crash.

The MHA claims that over 4,60,000 police personnel have been trained on how to use CCTNS — but officials in three States told The Hindu the courses consisted of elementary instruction in data entry using word processors and spread-sheets. “How on earth do we train people to use a system that doesn't exist,” one senior Jammu and Kashmir Police official asks.

None of the officials contacted by The Hindu in the NCRB or the MHA was willing to give a firm timeline for when the CCTNS might go online in all States. However, one said he believed could take “as much as another two years.” A Maharashtra-based officer involved in the project was less optimistic, saying it was “for all practical purposes dead.”

Design flaws?

Part of the problem, some police officials argue, was the MHA's decision to merely fund the project — entrusting each State with the task of implementing it on its own. The decision, a senior MHA official told The Hindu, was taken to avoid the prospect that the multicrore contracts involved would invite corruption charges. “The fact is,” a senior Punjab Police official says, “that few States have people competent to manage and administer a complex project like this.”

Kamlesh Bajaj, who heads the Data Security Council of India, and has a long experience of working in government, says similar delays are endemic. “There are a host of issues to do with planning and execution, as well as identifying key personnel, which seem to surface time and again,” he says.

Intelligence Bureau officials note that the database they administer — known as the Multi-Agency Centre — went online in less than two years after work began in 2009. In that case, though, the Intelligence Bureau sourced software from a single vendor, and provided States with ready-to-use systems.

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