Where are the CCTVs?

Pic: softhook.com

There is a lot that has been spoken about the installations of CCTVs for enhanced security measures. After the gruesome 26/11 attack a lot of emphasis was laid on the installation of CCTVs and while that was never implemented the same topic once again came up following the 13/7 blasts.

After the 13/7 blasts, the police relied very heavily on the Close Circuit Televisions that had been set up in the area and most of these cameras were personal ones. The daunting issue with these cameras were that they were not of high quality and the moment the zoom option was used to the fullest the image turned hazy which made it extremely difficult for the police to narrow down on the culprit.

The capital city of Maharashtra requires a minimum of 5000 CCTVs if providing security and cracking cases should begin to make some sense. Even the Ram Pradhan report after the 26/11 attack proposed that there is a requirement of 5000 such cameras in order to keep a proper watch on the entire city. More importantly these are cameras which have to be installed by the state government and the police department as they would have non stop access to the same at any given time. The quality of these cameras proposed were supposed to be very high in nature and it should have been able to provide a very clear picture upon maximum zoom.

However the city that has been a favourite terrorist hunting ground have hardly around 500 such cameras and most of the time the reliance is placed on the private cameras which only provide the imagery after an attack has taken place as they not linked directly to the police control room. What is most ironical is that after the proposal of 5000 cameras was made, the government managed to set up just around 150 cameras which are linked directly to the control room. The recommendation was that at least 5000 more cameras need to be installed in order to have some sense of security in such a large city.

What one realises while speaking to the police officials is that there is a big blame game that is on regarding this aspect. While the government had blamed official apathy for the same, the police department have been complaining about lack of funds. The Government feels that it is the duty of the police to ensure that these cameras are set up. While this is one part of the problem the other is the tussle between the crime and traffic wing of the police which is delaying this process. The government feels that the police department should also try and fend for itself in this issue and not always depend on the government for financial help. In cities such as Bangalore and Delhi the government has stated clearly that the fines that are collected for traffic offences need not be given to the government. It should entirely be used for setting up of police infrastructure which would include the installation of close circuit televsions. Now the traffic department feels that it should be the one spending the entire amount on CCTVs which would finally be used by the crime branch. They feel that other basic infrastructure that they would need would be compromised if they end up spending the entire amount collected by them in the setting up of CCTVs in the city.

While this is one part of the issue, post 13/7 what was found that even with the existing cameras on hand there were not sufficient personnel to handle the equipment, which was an indicator that the personnel were not given special training. In addition this the police department did not have access to the 4G network in order to ensure that these cameras function properly. The lack of a speedy network meant that there was a lag in the imagery. This meant that the police department had to work with low definition imagery since high definition cameras usually do not work properly with the kind of network speed that the police have access to. Moreover the use of a 3G network while operating high definition cameras have always failed in all parts of the world.

Police officials say that it has been mandatory for every establishment to have their own cameras. More importantly it is essential that these cameras are linked to the police control room so that there can be continued monitoring. However the  private establishments feel that investing in expensive cameras would hurt their pockets and they would need support from government.

The emergence of fringe groups and its repercussions

The investigations into the serial blasts have shown us one thing and that is the emergence of smaller modules cannot be ignored. Today Karnataka Home Minister, R Ashok has recommended a ban on an outfit called as the Karnataka Forum for Dignity (KFD) on the ground that it is turning into a notorious organization and could be involved in incidents pertaining to terror.

Yesterday the agencies which are investigating the blasts said that the incident could have been the handiwork of smaller groups and the operation was carried out by 6 to 10 persons.

The question that needs to be asked if this has marked the end of bigger outfits in India and will fringe operations such as these be carried out by self motivated groups. Assembling a bomb, planning the attack and executing it has become as easy as ABC. The bigger outfits are easier to curtail when compared to these smaller groups, the Intelligence Bureau points out.  Bigger outfits execute operations on a larger scale and there is always a lot of planning that goes into such an operation. The Lashkar-e-Tayiba which is very meticulous in its planning stood completely exposed post 26/11 and this was largely because several intercepts were picked up thanks to the operatives communicating over phone and also sharing emails. Moreover such outfits apart from causing a great deal of damage also have message to send out after these blasts. The messages are always on a large scale and would deal largely with the ties between two countries. Hence at some level they would want to announce that they are the masters of a particular attack. The case of the Indian Mujahideen was the same and after each attack they raised volatile issues such as the Gujarat riots or the Babri masjid demolition trying to indicate that they are the saviours of the community in India.

This is however not the case with smaller groups. They believe in a quick fire operation. All they look for is some destruction with an intention of satisfying their egos. There is always a set of disgruntled youth who want to take revenge on the police for some arrests made. It has become a cat and mouse game for them and the message is clear, “ you pick up our men, we will hit back.” There is no larger political or ideological agenda in their attacks. Apart from seeking revenge they also want to expose the vulnerability of the security appratus which in turn causes a great deal of embrassment for the police.

Smaller groups are also aware that they are not on the Intelligence radar and hence their movements are not restricted. There is no previous record on these men which only makes the job easier for them. They have easy access to the material and hence preparing a bomb too becomes very easy for them.

This is a growing risk for us security experts say. What can anyone possibly do if a group of five persons plan this attack in their house and then come and plant the bomb. They have not used mobile phones or emails which again makes it next to impossible to track them. These people are not even taking orders from anyone and such operations are planned without the approval of any large force. Experts say this is the main reason why the police continue to grope in the dark. It could be a small group which subscribes to the ideology of the Indian Mujahideen or another group from the second rung of the underworld trying to put terror groups out of business. It is very hard to tell in the absence of any record or dossier on such persons. There are few 100 such persons in the country who could carry out a strike of this nature at will and this without a doubt is becoming a major security threat. Intelligence alone will not help solve this problem since it is difficult to pick up intercepts on such operations. Constant monitoring of crowded places and proper security measures such as better policing and more CCTVs is what will provide a solution in dealing with such fringe groups who carry out strikes at will.

A closer look at the CCTV

The police have once again relied on CCTVs to crack the serial blasts case and increasingly this technology is being used. The question however is whether the number of CCTVs installed in high profile cities are sufficient. More often than not the police are depending on private CCTVs to pick up footage of an incident. However the question is whether it would be sufficient for the police to depend only on the CCTV footage that has been obtained from private cameras.

Speaking of this technology the government has ensured that large etsablishments, hotels and shops have CCTVs installed. While this aspect has been taken care of to a large extent, the question remains what the government or our police department is doing to put up CCTVs of its own.

The answer is obvious and there is a clear tussle on between the traffic department and the crime wing regarding this aspect. The crime wing thinks that the CCTVs that have been set up to monitor the traffic is sufficient to track down crime and hence they do not find the need to do it. The traffic police however argue that in crowded market places and areas of very high sensitivity, it is not their job to install these cameras since it does not fall under their jurisdiction.

Large cities would need anything between 800 to 1500 CCTVS installed at crucial locations. A police officer who is involved in the implementation of this programme says that it is necessary to have CCTVs in large numbers of our own since these cameras fall under our direct control. What tends to happen is that we end up relying on private cameras which are not connected to our control rooms. Hence in such ocassions we end up picking up the feed after the incident is over.

It is for the police department to act suo motu on this issue. Following the spate of terrorist attacks, the government has been funding the police departments to install CCTVs. Earlier there was a rule that out of the fine collected by the traffic police 30 per cent remained with the police while the rest of the 70 per cent went to the government. However now the governments have ensured that the entire funding goes to the police which should be utilized for traffic management which includes installation of CCTVs.

In cities such as Bangalore, Delhi and Bombay there are an average of 900 CCTVs that have been installed by the police department. However most of these cameras have been put up by the traffic department which once leads us to asking the crucial question as to who would set up cameras in crowded market places. Another observation regarding this cameras is that it is good at picking up pictures, but is very weak when it comes to recording voices. A good voice recorded would be the need of the hour to deal with cases of terrorism especially when the terrorists move around in buddy pairs.

The situation regarding the installation of CCTVs is more or less similar in every city in India. Speaking to police officials of various cities one gets the picture that they are on the job but there are proposals that are pending.  Another problem that the police seem to be facing is that they are not paying too much attention to the maintainence of these CCTVs. Take Bangalore for instance. At one shot 310 camera were set and before one knew 150 fell defunct and 50 others were stolen.

The police usually deploy private companies to set up CCTVs for them. The complaint however by the private companies is that they lose interest in carrying out the job since the payment is too slow and the cops never pay for the maintainence of these cameras. The police however add that to set up 1000 cameras in any city the cost would be Rs 10 crore and there would be an additional amount for the maintanence.

Security experts say that CCTVs in cities should work exactly like the way they work in airports. The CCTVs set up there are closely monitored at all times and the movement of each person is thoroughly scrutinized. At the Chhatrapati Shivaji International Airport there are around 40 high sensitive cameras. If similar cameras are set up in all parts of the city and is continuously monitored it will not only help in crack a case but prevent it too. Suspicious activity needs to be monitored at all times, police say.

Parking lots in major cities are another issue. Usually the parking lots are owned by private people and they are the ones who set up the cameras. These cameras are again not connected to the control room and the police often pick up inputs by the private security of these places. This in fact delays the response time since it takes a while for the information to be passed. Moreover private security agencies are not trained to assess such situations like the police would do.

The police however add that the entire onus cannot be placed only on them. Following the attack at the Jama Masjid last year a circular was issued to all hotels in the country to install CCTVs in restraunts and also corridors of hotels. Private establishments must install more CCTVs since what we have been noticing as of now is that there are cameras only at entry and exit points.

The police also add that there is a greater fund that is required to install CCTVs. Some private establishments are not ready to spend and the police department does not have the kind of funds it would require to install so many cameras and also maintain it. It has to be constantly checked and due to various issues there is a chance of these cameras going defunct too. The police also add that some establishments have complained about privacy issues which have prevented them from installing cameras in many locations. It is time that we realize that security is more important and there is a greater need to take this issue more seriously, the police also add.