Kejriwal proud of CCTV surveillance

Both Beijing (2.5 cr) and Shanghai (2.63 cr) have more population than Delhi (1.9 cr). But the CCTV cameras per square mile in the three cities are 189 in Beijing, 408 in Shanghai and 1,826 in Delhi

Representative image
Representative image

Amitabh Srivastava and Garima Sadhwani

Dr Kiran Aggarwal, paeditrician and activist, laughs when asked if she is proud of living in a city with the highest CCTV cameras per square mile. Ever since Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal’s ill-advised tweet exulting at the dubious distinction, he has received mostly brickbats. Does he think this is something to be proud of, asked incredulous people while others asked why the CM seems to believe this to be an achievement of his government.

“I feel proud to say that Delhi has beaten cities like Shanghai, New York and London with most CCTV cameras per square mile,” tweeted the Delhi chief minister.

“This is an old obsession of Kejriwal. I remember a meeting on the anniversary of the Nirbhaya tragedy from which he walked out when people questioned the efficacy of CCTV cameras. Unless we had CCTV cameras in public place, he said, women and children would never feel safe,” recalls Dr Aggarwal.

In the first six months of this year, a report in The Indian Express reported a 40% increase in street crimes in the national capital area over the same period in 2020, possibly because of the lockdown. There was also a 43% increase in rape cases. During this same period, around 1,100 cases of molestation and assault on women were also recorded. There was also rise in chain snatchings and attacks on women.

“CCTV cameras and adding to their number is not a solution. I was in Libya for some time where the crime rate was negligible because citizens knew that if they committed a crime, nobody could save them,” says Dr Aggarwal.

A Chartered Accountant is even more cynical. A South Delhi resident, he recalls a dacoity following which the RWA shared CCTV footage with the police. “Well, let us say that the culprits were identified and an honourable settlement was reached,” he says with a chuckle. “Everybody is happy. Manufacturers, users (RWA), law makers who sanction the money and award contracts, Law breakers, upholders of the law (police) and the conscience keepers (the media),” he adds laughing.

So, do women feel safe in public places with so many CCTV cameras around? “They do give you a sense of false security,” said a woman in Delhi on condition of anonymity. Others volunteered to say that the CCTV cameras at least increased the probability of culprits getting caught eventually. But there were several women like Devika Tandon, an MBA student from Lucknow, who claimed to feel uncomfortable.

“I feel uncomfortable whenever I go to a place that has a lot of CCTV cameras. No one likes being under surveillance, and I feel they’re used to spy on people. I feel prying eyes on me and it is an unpleasant feeling,” says Tandon.

Bhumika Singh, a student at Delhi University, feels that CCTV cameras are a “weak deterrent so to say” and they do not guarantee safety. Swati Khanna, a practicing lawyer at Delhi High Court, agrees. “CCTVs don’t prevent crime. But footage from CCTV cameras is a piece of legitimate evidence in a court of law, if after scrutiny and forensic tests, it is proved that they have not been doctored”.

Even retired police officers do not seem to believe that CCTV cameras are very useful. There is no substitute to the beat constable, the uniformed policeman on the ground. “Delhi Metro is safe not because of the CCTV cameras but because of the CISF personnel keeping vigil at every station,” said one of them.

The Delhi chief minister’s tweet was misplaced, they said, because it is not the density of the cameras per square mile but the actual number of cameras –London has one camera for 13 persons—which make a difference. Just as locks alone cannot keep a home safe, similarly cameras alone cannot keep a city safe.

A sceptical Swati Khanna also points out that the cameras often malfunction because of connectivity issues, weather conditions and when people block the vision inadvertently or otherwise, which happens often enough in crowded areas.

Prakhar Srivastava, a writer based in Lucknow, wonders how much money of the taxpayer is being spent on CCTV cameras. “What is the storage capacity of these cameras? Where are all the footage stored? Are CCTVs equipped with face recognition technology? Shouldn’t the live recordings be available to every citizen? How effective is the security protocol?”

Both Tandon and Srivastava feel it is important for regular audits of the money spent on installation, maintenance and replacement. Similarly, there should also be an audit of outcomes, whether there has been a significant reduction in crime and the conviction rate expedited with the help of cameras, they insist.

Areeb Uddin, an advocate, believes CCTV cameras are needed but says, “ It is difficult to obtain the original CCTV footage of the ‘incident’ because in many cases the recordings are tampered.”

He also wonders why there are no CCTV cameras inside police stations, where people are often tortured. Custodial deaths are not uncommon and since the state is spending so much money, they should install CCTV cameras inside police stations also, he suggests.

Replies received by RTI activist Vivek Pandey reveal that the AAP government in Delhi has so far allotted Rs 1,184.73 crore for installation of CCTVs, electricity consumption and allied charges in phase one and in phase two. The first phase began in 2018.

In July 2020, there were reports that Delhi PWD had been asked to expeditiously buy 1.5 lakh CCTV cameras for installation in and around residential and commercial complexes in addition to the 1.4 lakh ‘eyes in the sky’ installed across the national capital. The objective was to install at least 4000 cameras in each of the 70 assembly constituencies in Delhi.

This was in addition to Rs 400 crore spent on installing such cameras in 1,000 Delhi government schools. Reports suggest that earlier 4,388 CCTV cameras monitored by the Delhi Police were installed in police stations, court premises, markets etc. Under a community policing initiative called ‘Nigehbaan’, it was claimed that 2.45 lakh cameras had been installed.

So, how many CCTV cameras are there in Delhi? It is safe to conclude that nobody really knows. At least nobody knows how many of them are functional.

In 2020, before the pandemic, Chinese CCTV cameras were freely being sold in Delhi in the range of Rs 1,500 to Rs 3,500. And after the Chinese aggression in eastern Ladakh, Delhi Government was accused of having installed Chinese CCTV cameras, a charge dismissed by the state government. It had given the contract to public sector undertaking BEL and if BEL had procured Chinese cameras, it owed no responsibility, it said.

Chinese firm Hikvision, media reports suggested, had won a contract in 2018 and also promoted its app which allowed users, once downloaded, live feed from the streets. The downloaded feed, it was then alleged, could be accessed by Chinese agencies also. The controversy was buried by the pandemic.

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Published: 03 Sep 2021, 3:01 PM