All public transport vehicles in cities including buses and autos will soon need to have a GPS on board and the government hopes to cover all Indian cities within two years. The Ministry of Information Technology is also working on a proposal to introduce mandatory SOS Alert buttons or app in all new handsets sold in India.

The mandatory GPS implementation is part of a proposal for setting up a Computer Aided Dispatch (CAD) platform with National Vehicle Security and Tracking System at the national level and City Command and Control Centre at the state level, that is in the process of approval. Once set up, CAD will be able to see the location of public transport vehicles in an area and issue a dispatch if a woman presses the SOS button on her phone. It needs to be noted that CAD will also be integrated into the Dial 100 system that exists as of now.

This work is being undertaken as part of the Rs 1404.68 crore Nirbhaya Fund which the Union Cabinet approved in January this year, to reduce violence against women in cities. A part of the fund will also be used to set up video surveillance in buses and metros, but it’s not clear how the government plans to handle the logistics. CAD alone will cost Rs 321.69 crore, which includes a one time implementation cost of Rs 204.25 crore, operational cost for five years of Rs 102.12 crore and expenses for the central monitoring and evaluation project management unit of approximately Rs 15.32 crore.

Implementation: The project will be implemented in several stages, with each stage lasting nine months, followed by an operations and maintenance period of five years. In the first phase, 32 cities of 13 states in the country with a population of one million or more will be covered and according to PTI report, public transport vehicles in metros will need to have GPS by February 20. However, we could not find any mention of this date in the government release.

Issues: It’s currently not clear as to who will bear the cost of setting up GPS in public transport vehicles. Will the government invite a tender and select a GPS device that all public transport vehicles should use, or can drivers use GPS in their mobile phones? Also, how will the government track these GPS devices, will drivers need to install a specific app or will they need to a device that the government can tap into?

The government has been unsuccessfully trying to get all auto drivers in cities such as Bangalore and Chennai to set up electronic meters that cannot be tampered with and actually use them. In such a case, it is not clear how it can force owners of autorickshaws and buses or drivers to buy GPS equipment.

The other factor is the surveillance camera. If government goes ahead with this move, how will they monitor feeds from thousands of buses in each city? Also, for how long will they store that footage? The policy does raise a lot of questions, but we feel this is a step in the right direction. If the Indian government can implement this without corruption and with diligence, it will go a long way in making cities much safer for women.