Conversation with Chief General Manager (T & A)

  • Name: Mr. Soma Vijaykumar
  • Designation: Chief General Manager (T & A)
  • Conference: Safe Cities, Singapore
  • Date: 12th -14th May, 2015

Thank you Mr. Vijaykumar. Please tell our readers the topic of the conference that you attended and who else was in the delegation ?

I was joined by Mr Venugopal (Officer on Special Duty – Navi Mumbai Airport Influence Notified Area). We  represented CIDCO at the ‘Safe Cities’ conference held in Singapore between May 12-14, 2015.

What were the objectives of the Safe Cities conference? How were your views reinforced or changed by the conference?

My perception of safe cities conference was limited to the adoption of technologies for surveillance and public safety. Various cities have implemented CCTV systems to monitor law and order situations. Surveillance technology is also expected to serve as a deterrent for possible criminal and terrorist acts. Technology coupled with rules and regulations for public order and safety leads to safer cities – this is my belief. CIDCO is also investing in public safety and surveillance systems through the usage of CCTV cameras through the Navi Mumbai region.

The Safe Cities conference gave me exposure to aspects of  cyber terrorism that confront cities with heavy investments in technology and information systems. Today, city systems carry vast troves of data and are vulnerable  to possible acts of cyber terrorism.  As CIDCO moves forward with capital investments in infrastructure, due attention now needs to be given to protecting this valuable civic and private data.  Public agencies have been grappling with the issue of maintaining the privacy of data and CIDCO should, as always demonstrate leadership for the other agencies to follow.

Could you talk a little bit about the CCTV initiative that CIDCO has undertaken and any learning for this project that you gained from the conference?

CIDCO has recently floated a proposal to install 500 CCTV cameras in the Navi Mumbai project area. I shared the details of our specifications with other participants on the first day (focus day) of the conference.  I am happy to report that the feedback from experts from the United States and other countries present at the conference, confirmed that CIDCO’s specifications for the project are contemporary. I exchanged ideas on broadening surveillance beyond CCTVs through establishment of a cyber-terrorism cell to interact and interface with our national surveillance agencies.  An expert from Interpol gave the attendees ideas of various threats that public agencies have to deal with in this age. A CCTV system needs to be complemented with appropriate human resources to manage the system and communication protocols with national and international safety agencies effectively deter possible acts of violence.

The possibility of data residing across multiple systems necessitates coordination amongst these systems to protect against cyber attacks at multiple points in the overall system.

Can you mention some of the sessions at the Safe Cities Conference that were interesting to you as a participant?

There were multiple sessions going on in parallel and so I missed out on some of the sessions. But there were couple of sessions that were very insightful.

There was a session where a speaker from Japan shared his methodology to rank cities based on safety indices. Indian cities were ranked in the mid 40s based on a limited set of parameters such as smart technologies, cyber security and public safety. This methodology needs to be re-examined, especially since it does not consider environmental sustainability, water and air pollution and other natural hazards.  We should be looking at the included and omitted parameters to adapt the framework for CIDCO.

Another interesting session was on cyber security in Malaysia. There are opportunities for collaboration between our public safety agencies and Malaysian authorities. The Iskandar Regional Development Authority also presented some of its recent work on cyber security.

Finally, how was your experience of visiting Singapore one of the world’s most famous ‘smart’ cities?

I decided to use the two additional days to visit and explore Singapore’s transportation network. I used the SMRT metro network and visited Changi airport, which itself is a natural extension of the city.  Changi airport with its well designed terminals serves as a model for providing convenience to the general public. Facilities such as restaurants, dining and public conveniences are available to all citizens beyond those that are flying out of the airport. On the second day I explored the SMRT system. They have 5 corridors that are designed keeping the density and cultural challenges in mind. The diverse migrant population from China, India, Malaysia necessitates that the transit agencies are universal in their outreach. Softer interventions like presence of station wardens to help the tourists find their ways are examples of proactive city management. I also saw firsthand the Electronic Road Pricing System.

The Singapore City gallery had put its proposed developments for public viewing. Accessible to residents, it increases the transparency of the city development processes. It is evident that Singapore demonstrates the values of strategic vision based planning for achieving a high quality of life that is sustainable. I hope we (CIDCO and Navi Mumbai) can engage on a long term knowledge partnership with Singapore for  urban and transport planning. The Government of Singapore, importantly, promotes the usage of public transport while discouraging use of private modes through travel demand measures such as road pricing, high parking prices etc.. These solutions need to be incorporated urgently in India and  especially in Navi Mumbai. Navi Mumbai is similar to Singapore in population, employment, socio-cultural indicators, housing etc. Navi Mumbai will do well by looking at public transit as the future of transport and reducing the dependency on private vehicles. This will certainly make Navi Mumbai one of the safest cities of India and a  global benchmark in terms of ‘safe cities’.