Under fire, Kerala government goes for probe into AI project

Leader of Opposition V D Satheesan wondered why the government kept the VACB probe a secret. 
Image used for representational purpose only.
Image used for representational purpose only.

THIRUVANANTHAPURAM: In the wake of a belligerent Opposition stepping up attack, the state government has ordered a probe by the principal secretary (industries) into Keltron’s role in the traffic surveillance camera project. The PSU is accused of outsourcing the Rs 232-crore project to a private company against the rules. 

Announcing the probe, Industries Minister P Rajeeve on Wednesday claimed the “well-intended” project was executed in a fair and transparent manner.

He also said Keltron has been asked to share the project’s documents with the Vigilance and Anti-Corruption Bureau (VACB), which is already probing corruption allegations against former joint transport commissioner Rajeev Puthalath and the Safe Kerala Project, under which the Motor Vehicles Department installed the AI-powered cameras. The government had in March permitted VACB to conduct a preliminary enquiry into the allegations raised by a Karunagappally-based NGO.

Leader of Opposition V D Satheesan wondered why the government kept the VACB probe a secret. 
“News of it emerged only after we wrote to the CM seeking documents related to AI cameras. If a probe was on, why did the cabinet approve the project without mentioning it in the cabinet note?” he asked. He warned of a strike if the government failed to order a proper investigation. As per the tender, subcontracting is not permitted for critical aspects like data security and management, but was done in this case, he alleged. 

Oppn creating a smokescreen over deal, says minister Rajeeve

“The tender required bidders to possess technical and financial capabilities, and provide a five-year warranty for the entire system, including control rooms and infrastructure. But SRIT, the firm awarded the tender, is not qualified, and collaborated with companies like Troyes and Mediatronix to finish the project,” Satheesan said.

However, P Rajeeve accused the Opposition of creating a smokescreen. He said all the documents of the project, including tender call, pre-quote conditions, tender allotment, relevant government orders (GOs), and MVD’s directions to Keltron, will be made public.

On subcontracting, Rajeeve said it was allowed as per the tender document and GO, and did not require cabinet’s clearance. “The sub-contractor was not assigned any duty that would affect data privacy,” he said. Accusing the Opposition of falsely claiming that the new cameras cost `33 crore, Rajeeve said, “The actual cost is about `9 lakh per camera, which is reasonable considering its features. Not just AI, the camera has 11-12 components in total. Three of the components were developed by Keltron.”

He said the project cost involves maintenance expenses and total facility management service for five years. “A state control room has been set up with computers, servers and 500 laptops. Twelve district-level control rooms were set up, . The total facility management service cost includes the salary of 146 control room staff, and covers expenses for sending SMS alerts to offenders, taking print-outs of visuals of offences and sending them to offenders by post,” he said.

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