CCTV cameras in police stations: Not installed or non-functional

While thousands of CCTV cameras conduct surveillance on the people on streets & public places, police are reluctant to follow Supreme Court’s order to monitor themselves. Who will ‘police the police’?

CCTV cameras in police stations: Not installed or non-functional

Shalini Sahay

Four years after the Supreme Court directed states to install CCTV cameras in all police stations and two years after the court issued a 10-point guideline, few states seem to have complied with the direction.

The Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) in compliance with Supreme Court’s direction in April, 2018, had set up a committee to study feasibility of a central server to store CCTV footage. Not much is known since then about initiatives taken by the MHA or the states in this direction.

The MHA, which justified the amendment in Criminal Identification Bill to allow the police to collect ‘measurements’ of all suspects, detainees, the arrested and the undertrials—including their DNA and semen samples, appears clueless on ‘policing the police’. When policemen break the law—semen of undertrials might come in handy to frame them but may not help in booking the guilty in uniform.

The issue acquires significance in the wake of several recent cases of excesses by policemen. This week itself an SHO in Lalitpur (Uttar Pradesh) has been accused of raping a rape survivor in the police station. In the same district another policeman has been accused of stripping a woman and administering third degree on her because some Tantrik had declared that the woman, a maid, had stolen articles mossing from the policeman’s home.

Would these policemen have behaved if there were CCTV cameras in police stations or if police personnel are mandated to put on body cameras while making arrests or while interrogating suspects and the accused?

A Magistrate in Barpeta (Assam), while releasing Gujarat MLA Jignesh Mevani on bail last week, had recorded that the Chief Justice of the Gauhati High Court might consider ordering the police to use body cameras and install CCTV cameras in police vehicles. The magistrate felt that the charge against Mevani of assaulting or misbehaving with a woman constable was fabricated to keep him under detention. Only an insane person would try to molest a police constable in the presence of two policemen in the same vehicle, he observed.

Assam Police secured a special permission to challenge the ‘observations’ in the Gauhati High Court and a single judge bench this week ‘stayed’ the observation saying that the comments by the magistrate were unwarranted and irrelevant while considering the bail application. The judge has also been quoted as saying that the comments would have the effect of demoralising the police. With jurists questioning the law under which the high court could ‘stay’ observations, there have now been unverified reports that the magistrate has been asked to expunge the comments from the order.

The Gauhati High Court is currently hearing a petition filed in December last year alleging 80 incidents of fake encounters in the state since May 2021 when Himanta Biswa Sarma took over as the chief minister of Assam, that resulted in 28 deaths and left 48 injured. The numbers have risen since then.

In December, 2020 a three-judge bench of Justice RF Nariman, Justice KM Joseph and Justice Aniruddha Bose of the Supreme Court ordered that “every police station in each state and Union Territory” be fitted with CCTV cameras with night vision and audio capacity.

The court also directed that the storage of recorded material should not be for less than one year, although the ideal would be 18 months. Governments were to release funds to make this possible immediately, form oversight committees according to the court’s instructions and submit ‘affidavits of compliance’ in letter and spirit within a fixed time-frame.

The Station House Officers in each PS, the court ordered, would be responsible for the functioning and maintenance of the devices and report any breakdown without delay to ensure quick repair.

Unusually, or possibly in view of the Government’s failure to implement its earlier directions, the court also issued a detailed guideline. Some of them were the following:

• It is imperative to ensure that CCTV cameras are installed at the entry and exit points, all lock-ups, corridors, lobby/ reception area, verandas/outhouses, inspector’s room, outside (not inside) washrooms/toilets, Duty Officer’s room, Back part of the police station etc.

• CCTVs shall also be installed in all the offices where interrogation and holding of accused takes place in the same manner as it would in a police station

• CCTV systems that have to be installed must be equipped with night vision and must necessarily consist of audio as well as video footage.

• In areas where there is either no electricity and/or internet, it shall be the duty of the States/Union Territories to provide the same as expeditiously as possible using any mode of providing electricity, including solar/wind power.

However, last month Delhi Police informed the Delhi High Court that footage from CCTV cameras at the police stations get automatically erased after 18 days! This effectively defeats the purpose of the Supreme Court order. The court was also informed that some of the cameras installed were not functional when the petitioner was in the PS.

With the police and the Government in no mood to comply with citizens’ concerns and the courts’ directions, only intervention by the judiciary may prevent demoralisation and persecution of the people.

(This was first published in National Herald on Sunday)

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