Watch and Learn

The row over CCTV cameras in Delhi schools

31 January 2020
The Kejriwal government inaugurated the CCTV scheme in July 2019.
Sanchit Khanna / Hindustan Times / Getty Images
The Kejriwal government inaugurated the CCTV scheme in July 2019.
Sanchit Khanna / Hindustan Times / Getty Images

It seemed like any other day at the Shaheed Hemu Kalani Sarvodaya Bal Vidyalaya, a government school in Delhi’s Lajpat Nagar. The students sat attentively in class. They were wearing their uniforms, white shirts and ties, and the teacher paced through the classroom as he taught. But high in opposite corners of the room, one thing had changed: two newly installed closed-circuit television cameras watched over the class.

The day, 6 July 2019, marked the official launch of the Aam Aadmi Party-ruled Delhi government’s plan to install two CCTV cameras in every government-school classroom. The decision came on the heels of a wider AAP push to surveil the city. In June, after a prolonged tussle with the lieutenant governor’s office, the government officially launched a scheme to fulfil the AAP’s campaign promise to install 2,000 cameras in public places in each of Delhi’s 70 assembly constituencies. A month later, Arvind Kejriwal, the chief minister, directed the public-works department to procure another 150,000 cameras, bringing the total number of cameras to be installed close to three hundred thousand. The move was also part of the AAP government’s greater investment in public education. Twenty-six percent of the 2019–20 Delhi budget was dedicated to education; the AAP has more than doubled the previous Delhi government’s education spending.

Unlike the typical CCTV cameras that dot the city, whose footage is only monitored in central control rooms, the video feed from the school cameras will be available to parents of students in government schools. The DGS Live mobile app, currently available only for the Lajpat Nagar school, will allow parents to log in for 15 minutes at a time, three times a day, and access the footage in their child’s classroom. Ravinder Kumar, the officer on special duty at the Delhi education department’s Care Taking Branch, told me that cameras had been installed in nearly three hundred of the 728 government-school buildings in Delhi.

Tentative plans to install the cameras had been in the works since 2015, when the AAP came to power. A couple of years later, a few alarming incidents brought the initiative to centre stage. On 8 September 2017, a seven-year-old student at the Ryan International School, in Gurgaon, was found in the washroom with his throat slit. A day later, at another private school, in Shahdara, a five-year-old student was allegedly raped by a peon. These incidents raised widespread concern about school safety.

“The school is a sanctuary,” Akshay Marathe, an AAP spokesperson who worked on education policy with the Delhi government, told me. Providing parents access to the footage, he said, served two purposes. For one, it is a practical, cheap and fast way to provide effective surveillance, rather than setting up endless monitoring rooms and paying people to constantly watch the live footage. It also provides a mechanism of accountability, allowing parents to ensure that the schools are running well and teachers are present. Instead of enabling the government to monitor its citizens, the cameras are supposed to allow citizens a window into the workings of a government institution; instead of state control, they are supposed to facilitate transparency.

Lewis Page is a Luce Scholar at The Caravan.

Keywords: Delhi government education Arvind Kejriwal Aam Aadmi Party surveillance schools schoolchildren