Tuesday, July 6, 2010

A ‘Z’ eye in Delhi sky for Commonwealth Games

The government’s plan for a novel “Z” category security for the Commonwealth Games involves a lot of hot air — to both its critics and advocates.
A Zeppelin — a kind of rigid gas balloon — fitted out with a radar, cameras and other monitoring equipment is likely to float across Delhi’s skies during the October event to watch out for any hostile intrusion.

The Rs 74-crore balloon-airship or blimp can be a huge asset for Delhi even after the Games, security analyst Ajai Sahni said.

Its high-resolution cameras can keep an eye on every street and car, not only boosting police’s surveillance capabilities but also helping them clear or avert traffic snarls.

But Sahni sounded a caution, saying the Zeppelin would only provide data and its effectiveness would depend on “what kind of monitoring capabilities the police develop”.

A European company is building the Zeppelin to the Indian government’s specifications, sources said.

They said the blimp can be placed at a very high altitude, out of the reach of any possible saboteurs on the ground.

The airship, made up of a rigid metal skeleton and airbags, has had a proud military and surveillance record since it was pioneered by Count Ferdinand von Zeppelin of Germany a century ago. During World War I, the Germans used it extensively on bombing and spying missions.

The Games organising committee will also use the Zeppelin as an advertising organ, like the blimp of a tyre company that hovered over stadiums during this year’s Indian Premier League matches, Delhi government sources said.

Sahni said the price of the Zeppelin would be only “a fraction” of the overall cost of maintaining it.

The police will need to set up a “state-of-the-art control room with advanced capabilities” for its effective use, he said.

The costs involved have prompted some critics to ask whether the government shouldn’t be more concerned about inflated prices than inflated airships.

Even some in the Congress, such as former sports minister Mani Shankar Aiyar, think too much money is being wasted on the Games at a time spiralling prices are strangling a poor country.

“The Zeppelin’s cost equals that of 1.3 crore litres of petrol or 7,400 tonnes of dal,” a government official said half-jokingly with yesterday’s price-rise bandh in mind.

Government sources said Rs 74 crore wasn’t all that huge a sum considering the overall Rs 15,000 crore being spent on the Games.

The direct expenditure on the showpiece event is estimated to be Rs 11,493.83 crore, about half the budget allocation for the health ministry this fiscal.

The Delhi government is spending a further Rs 2,800 crore on “infrastructure development” ahead of the Games

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