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CCTV footage: Recorded today, gone tomorrow

mumbai Updated: Aug 14, 2010 01:11 IST
Kunal Purohit
Kunal Purohit
Hindustan Times

There are 535 close circuit television cameras on suburban stations along the Western Railway but recording footage on these cameras is a futile exercise, a Right To Information (RTI) query has revealed.

The absence of a policy on storing CCTV footage has defeated the purpose of installing the cameras because most of the footage is deleted within days.

The RTI query, filed by activist Samir Zaveri, revealed that there is no provision to preserve CCTV footage. Some railway stations even delete the footage a couple of days later.

The railways installed these cameras in phases after the July 2006 serial bomb blasts. Three years later, the railways do not have a policy on how long the footage should be preserved for.

An officer from the Railway Police Force, posted on a station along the western line, said: “There are times when we delete the footage in a couple of days, while at certain times, we keep them for five days. We have no clear instructions on how long we need to preserve it for.”

This, the officer said, could prove detrimental especially when investigations are carried out months after an incident and CCTV footage could provide vital clues. “We realised our shortcoming when it emerged that David Coleman Headley [alleged Lashkar-e-Tayyeba operative suspected of plotting the 26/11 terror attacks] had done a recce of Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus. If we had CCTV footage, we could have tracked his accomplice down too,” the officer said.

An RTI query filed by former Railway Protection Force officer, S.R. Reddy, revealed that the Central Railway’s suburban section also preserves CCTV footage from its 900 cameras only for five days. “This lackadaisical attitude means at different stations, different criteria are applied for preserving footage,” Reddy said.

Western Railway’s Public Relations Officer C. David, said there are no rules governing preservation of CCTV footage. “But the practice is to preserve footage for at least 10 days,” he said. Shrinivas Mudgerikar, chief public relations officer, Central Railway, said they take a backup of “important” footage like in case there is a mishap. “We might examine this (period of preservation) at some point. For now, however, this current system is adequate,” he said.

Security experts are unhappy with this. I.C. Sisodia, disaster management expert and former chief of the municipal corporation’s Special Intelligence Vigilance Unit said, “It’s shocking that the railways are so careless about something as vital as CCTV footage. The minimum period of preservation is one month.”