At Kumbh, AI-equipped cameras supposedly zoom in on those without masks

With hordes turning up for the Kumbh mela in Haridwar amid a surge in Covid cases, the Uttarakhand Police apparently is using Artificial Intelligence (AI) to zoom in on those not wearing masks.

Officials said over 350 CCTV cameras have been installed at different locations in the mela area, with about 100 of these equipped with sensors that generate an alert when the camera captures the image of a person without a mask. Being deployed for the first time at the Kumbh mela in Haridwar, the AI-equipped cameras also generate an alert when sites identified as vulnerable for stampede — Har-ki-Pauri, Subhash Ghat, Brahmakund, Malviya Dweep — see a higher crowd density. The cameras are also being used to keep a count of vehicles at parking lots and to spot objects lying unattended for more than 10 minutes.

In case one of the cameras spots someone without a mask, it relays an alert to personnel deployed at the police surveillance control room in Mela Bhawan near Har Ki Pauri, who share the location of the violator to the nearest enforcement teams. The person is handed, besides a free mask, punishment as per rules. However, having seen the thousands of devotees, gathered at the ghats for the holy dip, how effective this feature was to carry out its intended purpose is uncertain.

Officials said 278 of the 350 cameras are fixed ones and 22 of the pan-tilt-zoom variety. Ten cameras have been installed at entry points for automatic number plate recognition of vehicles. Kumbh Mela IG Sanjay Gunjyal said monitoring of mela areas with AI-enabled cameras has been effective this Covid season.

Officials claim that on April 2, over 1,500 people were issued challans for not wearing a mask, of whom around 350 were caught on camera in just four hours. The cameras also spotted two unattended bags. “When a site identified as vulnerable gets crowded beyond 75 percent of its capacity, the control room gets an alert, at which point, entry of people to these sites will be immediately stopped,” said Mukesh Thakur, Additional SP in charge of the Police Surveillance Control Room at Kumbh. “A trial of these cameras equipped with AI capabilities had been done during the first ‘shahi snan’ on March 11. Now it will be used during the entire Kumbh Mela period,” he said.