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Railways scraps thermal cameras tender after firms allege advantage China

The railways has scrapped a tender for thermal cameras meant for ‘Covid surveillance’ after Indian firms alleged that the tender specifications favoured a Chinese company.

In June, Railtel, the railways’ telecom arm, had issued a tender for thermal temperature screening AI-based surveillance cameras for assistance in Covid-19 surveillance. The government company has decided to issue a fresh tender after the controversy.

“EOI for selection of partner for thermal temperature screening solution to RCIL’s customers stands cancelled with immediate effect. Fresh EOI will be published soon,” a notice by the PSU said.

This comes at a time when the Indian government has banned 59 apps, mostly having Chinese links, saying they were “engaged in activities prejudicial to sovereignty and integrity of India”.

India and China are involved in a tense border stand-off along the Line of Actual Control in Ladakh. A brutal brawl in Galwan Valley on June 15 led to 20 Indian and an unspecified number of Chinese soldiers dead.

In a letter written to Railtel, one of the vendors said the pre-qualification criteria laid down for the OEM & bidder has some anomalies and ambiguities. Hindustan Times has seen a copy.

“Even after the release of the latest corrigendum (on June 23) the department has some ambiguities too in technical specifications. Specifications issued are biased to Chinese OEM i.e. Hikvision, Specs clearly mentioned DeepinMind technology which is a proprietary feature of Hikvision NVRs,” the letter said.

Indian firms have alleged that artificial intelligence technology – DeepInMind – which is specified in the tender is a proprietary feature of Chinese firm Hikvision, a company partly owned by the Chinese government.

According to Hikvision’s technology, Network Video Recorder (NVR) has a “mind” of its own and can analyse and classify human and vehicle targets from video streams.

Under the specifications mentioned in the tender for temperature screening with facial recognition and mask detection, Railtel mentioned “Special interface in DeepinMind NVR.”

The specifications for the cameras include temperature screening with facial recognition and mask detection, simultaneous temperature screening for multiple persons, detecting whether people wear masks and giving timely alarms on people without masks.

While the initial tender for these cameras issued on June 9 excluded a crucial specification called “black body” temperature – the ability of the cameras to accurately measure temperatures emitted by a person to say whether a person has fever or not – and the DeepinMind technology specification, they were included in the revised tender issued on June 23.

Railtel had floated the tender to purchase around 800 such camera systems.

Hindustan Times had on November 10 last year reported the national carrier is planning a complete overhaul of security at railway stations through the use of facial recognition technology backed by artificial intelligence.

It also planned to link the facial recognition system (FRS) with existing databases such as the Crime and Criminal Tracking Network & Systems (CCTNS) to identify criminals prowling railway stations.

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