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Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 15 December 2018

India installs CCTV in classrooms after brutal crimes

But the multi-million-dollar project has proved controversial with both teachers and civil rights campaigners

Civil rights campaigners say the CCTV plan — which critics have likened to a 'prison-like' environment — violates privacy laws. Getty Images
Civil rights campaigners say the CCTV plan — which critics have likened to a 'prison-like' environment — violates privacy laws. Getty Images

India plans to install CCTV cameras in thousands of classrooms in the country's capital after a string of high-profile crimes against children.

The multi-million-dollar project in New Delhi has proved highly controversial, with teachers fearing the cameras will be used to monitor them without their knowledge. Civil rights campaigners also say the plan — which critics have likened to a "prison-like" environment — violates privacy laws.

But Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal says the scheme will ensure children's safety.

"Each parent will be given access to see his child studying in class on real time basis on his phone," Mr Kejriwal tweeted. "This will make the whole system transparent and accountable."

Putting cameras in the city's 1,000 or so government-run schools revives a plan originally announced by Mr Kejriwal’s government in March 2016. At that time the project was budgeted at 1 billion rupees (Dh57.5m).

Although officials have said installation of the cameras will begin in three months' time a date of completion has not been announced.

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Read more: India's supreme court delivers landmark judgement on right to personal privacy

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The use of cameras follows violent incidents in schools in and around the capital.

In September last year, a five-year-old girl was raped in a school in north-east Delhi. That same month a seven-year-old boy was found dead in the toilets of a school with his throat cut.

School staff have been involved in some crimes. A member of staff in a school in the suburb of Greater Noida was arrested for raping an 11-year-old boy in October.

And on Tuesday, Delhi police filed charges against a school in the western Delhi suburb of Dwarka for failing to stop or report the "sexual assault" of a four-year-old girl by one of her classmates.

The incidents all happened in private schools, of which there around 5,000 in Delhi. But the state government only has the power to install CCTV cameras in public schools.

The monitoring system is being designed to include a mobile app, which parents will access with a login, enabling them to watch a live feed of their child in class.

School staff will also be able to access their own institution's camera feeds, while education department officials will be able to access the feeds of all Delhi schools.

Kanwaljeet Singh, a 42-year-old taxi driver whose seven-year-old son goes to a government school in south Delhi, welcomed the decision to use CCTV.

"That boy was just about my son’s age, more or less. It was shocking, and I definitely started to worry about what kind of safety these schools are able to provide," he said of the child whose throat was fatally cut, even questioning if the plan went far enough.

"The Gurugram murder happened in a bathroom," he said. "I know we can’t put cameras there. But what about the corridors and playgrounds and other public spaces in the school?"

Meanwhile, the Government School Teachers' Association, a trade union, said it would be registering its protest against the plan with the government.

Ajay Veer Yadav, the association’s general secretary, said he suspected the cameras would be used as another way of keeping tabs on teachers, as well as to secretly evaluate their performance.

"This will interfere with our work," he said, adding that the cameras would make teachers self-conscious and less effective at disciplining their students. "If the government really wants to improve safety, they should hire more teachers. We don’t have enough."

The state school system in Delhi is facing severe staffing shortages with only 38,926 of a total 66,736 teaching positions currently filled. Some 17,000 of the filled positions are held by "guest" teachers hired on short-term contracts and paid by the day.

Delhi-based lawyer Apar Gupta said the plan could infringe on children's civil rights, following India's Supreme Court decision in August last year to make privacy as a fundamental right — for both children and adults.

"I've never heard of an example where live feeds are available on an app to parents or others," Mr Gupta told The National. "That kind of monitoring creates a real prison-like environment."

He also criticised the authorities.

"In a lot of instances, the child’s primary caregiver has the right to make limited decisions about the child’s privacy [when it is] in the interest of the child,” he said. "But the decision is being made here not by the parents but by the government."