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Who’s keeping watch?

A month before the Mumbai terror attacks on November 26, 2008, the then Union home secretary, Madhukar Gupta, dashed off a letter to all state chief secretaries and director generals of police about the need to increase vigilance and surveillance in urban centres across the country.

delhi Updated: Aug 05, 2012 02:32 IST
Shishir Gupta
Shishir Gupta
Hindustan Times

A month before the Mumbai terror attacks on November 26, 2008, the then Union home secretary, Madhukar Gupta, dashed off a letter to all state chief secretaries and director generals of police about the need to increase vigilance and surveillance in urban centres across the country.

The letter said: “Among other measures, which relate to strengthening mechanisms for vigilance and gathering information about suspicious activities....It has also been emphasised that regulations may be put in place whereby the provisions of basic security features pertaining to access control and surveillance through closed circuit television cameras (CCTVs) be made mandatory for places like malls, multiplexes, hotels, restaurants and other entertainment places where there are large number of footfalls and public gatherings.”

The world is watching
While the world had shifted towards unobtrusive surveillance through CCTVs after the 9/11 terror attacks in New York and July 7, 2005 London suicide bombings, the Indian security mindset went through an upheaval only after the 26/11 terror attacks.

Footage from CCTVs at Chattrapati Shivaji Rail Terminus, Taj Palace and Trident hotels not only helped nail Pakistani terror group Lashkar-e-Toiba in the attack but exposed the vulnerability of police forces towards terrorist attacks.

Although CCTV footage help in nailing the four suicide bombers in the 7/7 London bombings had already entered police training manuals — like the 1976 Israeli Operation Entebbe in the anti-hijacking Bible — India woke up to police surveillance after the Mumbai attacks. Today, Britain has around 1.85 million CCTVs with more than 11,000 in London only, and the heart of New York has more than 8,000 cameras for police surveillance. Accused of being a surveillance state, Britain has one CCTV for every 32 persons and chances of getting caught on a police or private CCTV 70 times a day on an outing in London are high.

Across China, there are more than 10,000,000 CCTV cameras, says a 2011 report. In the run-up to the 2008 Olympics, Beijing installed some 300,000 cameras across the city. Currently CCTV cameras are installed everywhere —bus stops, subways, train stations, malls, inside lifts in apartment blocks, in and around government offices, and sensitive areas like Tiananmen Square. The Beijing subway has more than 180 stations and multiple cameras to monitor them. Cameras line roads and are installed at every intersection. Such cameras are also in universities and in and around the homes of known dissidents like Ai Weiwei. A 2010 government directive said cameras should even be set up at cemetries. Many prisons in the city also have cameras to monitor violence besides tracking inmate-police interaction. Last year, the south-western municipality of Chongqing, a city of 30 million, announced plans to add 200,000 cameras by 2014 as “310,000 digital eyes are not enough.”

India’s effortshttps://www.hindustantimes.com/Images/Popup/2012/8/05-08-pg13a.jpg

The Indian security establishment, has been slow to catch up though effort is being made to surveil areas with large footfalls. The results have not always been positive thanks to lax accountability. Consider this:

August 1, 2012: The Pune Municipal Corporation had installed 70 CCTVs for surveillance and traffic monitoring in 2010 but the cameras were found not working during low-intensity serial bomb blasts with the Indian Mujahideen (IM) terror group’s signature. Had the CCTVs outside Dena Bank and the McDonald’s on JM Marg not been disconnected due to non-payment, the police could have identified the group responsible.

July 13, 2011: The triple bomb blasts triggered by IM mastermind Yasin Bhatkal at Opera House, Zhaveri Bazaar and Dadar bus stand in Mumbai claimed 26 lives. The blast in crowded Zhaveri bazaar was caught on CCTVs but the bomber could not be identified, despite experts from global computer companies like IBM scanning the footage, due to poor resolution.

February 13, 2010: The bombing of German Bakery in Pune by IM operatives Yasin Bhatkal and Himayat Baig claimed 17 lives. Fortunately, the image of Yasin carrying the bomb in a bag was snapped by a CCTV camera outside a five-star hotel nearby. Both Yasin and Baig were charge sheeted by police.

“CCTVs have played an important role in detecting crimes. Perhaps there is a need to examine the deployment of security cameras in major cities and work out modalities as to how the latest technology could be identified for the purpose of future interface with crime and criminal tracking network system,” says Kuldip Sharma, Director General, Bureau of Police Research and Development, while admitting that there is no centralised data or study on deployment of CCTVs in India.

Airport alert
While CCTV cameras are being extensively used at Indian airports, their numbers and operating procedures are still not up to mark. Out of 15 airports classified as hypersensitive — not including Srinagar, Leh and Jammu airfields as they are with the state police — with Central Industrial Protection Force (CISF), CCTV coverage is around 57% with 2200 cameras installed against a requirement of 3886 devices. In case of sensitive airports, coverage is just 55% with 1228 cameras installed out of a requirement of 2234. Six airports, which have been classified as normal, have 57% CCTV coverage with 3699 devices installed against a requirement of 6447.

The state of states
The deployment of CCTVs in states is far worse despite a very poor police population ratio in India as compared to the world. According to Home Ministry reports, total police personnel per 100,000 inhabitants in India is just upward of 145.2, while in Italy it is 559, in Mexico 491.8 and in US it is 325.4 and above.

“CCTVs are not a panacea against crime prevention, but these devices act as deterrents...and also help in crime detection,” said a top CISF official. In the national capital, there are some 405.35 policemen for 100,000 residents and 574 patrol vehicles. The police monitors only 31 big markets and three border crossings due to a resource crunch and lengthy procurement procedures. These CCTVs, with 15-day memory, are monitored at police stations or on 32 consoles in police headquarters at ITO.

Other megacities like Mumbai, Bengaluru, Kolkata, Hyderabad, Pune, Ahmedabad, and Chennai are worse off despite shooting crime rates and repeated terrorist attacks. These cities, except Pune, were given central assistance for police modernisation to the tune of R344.97 crore between 2005-2010 under the Home Ministry’s megacity policing scheme. “Even the 6000 CCTV cameras that Mumbai is going for would be far from adequate if one was to capture every Mumbaikar’s image as they step out of their homes, like London does,” says GB Singh, Director of 1st Academy of Security Science Education & Training.

However, mere deployment of CCTVs does not deter or prevent crime. There is an urgent need to synergise the resource footage and security operations or else it is to each his own with private sector playing its own tune by selling these devices for R50-60,000 and throwing privacy issues out of the window. Pune 1/8 was a timely wake-up call.

(With Sutirto Patranobis from Beijing)


First Published: Aug 04, 2012 22:48 IST