Hyderabad: Within weeks of world-wide cyber security portal Comparitech including Hyderabad among the 20 most surveilled cities in the world, a query under the Right to Information (RTC) Act revealed that many of these cameras were non-functional.
The query filed by an RTI and social activist SQ Masood before the state director general of police M Mahender Reddy brought startling facts to light including the complete absence of a uniform policy on maintaining the video footage of these cameras in public places and accountability of the authorities in the matter.
The DGP had forwarded Masood’s query to all the police stations in Hyderabad and two surrounding commissionerates of Rachakonda and Cyberabad. However only three of the police stations – Jeedimetla, Balanagar amd Madhapur - replied to the query while others specially in Hyderabad did not respond.
The replies revealed that many of the cameras in their jurisdiction were not working defeating the very purpose of their installation.
A report by UK based agency Comparitech in July last had put Hyderabad at 16th spot among the 20 cities in the world in terms of the coverage of the CCTV cameras. Interestingly Hyderabad was the only Indian city among the top 20 and except London, all other 18 cities were in China.
Comparitech had said that Hyderabad along with its two neighbouring urban conglomerates of Cyberabad and Rachakonda had nearly half a million close circuit TV cameras for a population of 10 million or 29.9 cameras per thousand population.
“I had filed the query under RTI as part of my research”, said SQ Masood pointing many loopholes in the maintenance of the record.
The replies to the query said that of the 485 CCTV cameras in public places under the police station of industrial suburb Balanagar, 255 were not functioning. Under another industrial area Jeedimetla 242 of 708 cameras were not working.
In the most tech savvy part of the city-Madhapur, the IT hub, of the total 310 cameras, 26 were non functional.
Police attributed the situation to numerous reasons including cables getting snapped of cameras getting damaged due to heavy rains and technical glitches. In Madhapur police station limits, where MNCs and global companies have their offices and campuses, a constable was specially deputed only to look after the cameras and ensure their proper functioning.
In addition to these cameras installed by the police, Jeedimetla police limits also have 4,042 community cameras installed by various residential and commercial organizations and groups at their own expenses.
The reply from the police stations also revealed that the policy of keeping the CCTV camera footage differed from area to area. While Jeedimetla police inspector Mohammed Waheeduddin said that they keep the footage safe for 30 days, the period was only 20 days in Balanagar. In some of the police stations in Hyderabad, police officials said that the footage was kept stored only for 7 to ten days due to the storage capacity problem and other technical issues.
To ensure uniformity in keeping the footage safe for investigations in case of necessity, Masood demanded that a special authority should be created by bringing in a law.
“What if need arises for the footage after a week and it is erased by the police”, he asked.
However the police officials said that in case of any serious incident, the footage of the cameras in that area will be preserved for the investigation purpose.
The report of Comparitech had said that China had the most intense surveillance system covering almost all its major cities. Among other Indian cities Chennai was placed at 21st position and the national capital New Delhi was at 33rd spot.
Telangana’s Minister for Information Technology K Taraka Rama Rao had hailed Hyderabad’s CCTV network. “I am proud that our city is best in the world in terms of our number of CCTVs”, he said when asked about the impact of the system. “We need to enhance the numbers (of cameras) further to reduce crime and keep our citizens safe”.
With the massive network of the CCTV cameras covering the city, monitoring almost every move in public and also using the face recognition technology, non functioning cameras have raised serious question about its efficacy. While police officials said that these cameras were of great help in solving serious issues of crime and accidents on the roads, civil rights activists have said that it was endangering the privacy of the citizens.