by Abhay Vaidya
Barely two months ago, on June 12, the Imphal police succeeded in arresting two alleged militants who were videographed by a closed circuit television (CCTV) camera while planting a hand grenade inside the administrative block of the Regional Institute of Medical Sciences (RIMS).
While the hand-grenade was discovered accidentally at the entrance of the RIMS admin block in April, a close examination of the CCTV footage helped the police identify the suspects.
Last month, the Mumbai police solved the sensational kidnapping of a three-year-old girl from the Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus, Mumbai, after the entire sequence of the kidnapping was caught by CCTV cameras inside the railway station. The footage showed what the kidnapper looked like and provided other clues which helped solve the crime.
In September 2011, the Gurgaon police solved the senseless shooting down of a toll plaza attendant on the night of September 23 after an argument over paying the toll fee of Rs 27. The alleged murderer was identified in the CCTV footage which showed him returning to the spot to enquire about the attendant’s condition.
There are scores of such examples and overwhelming evidence to show that CCTV footage – of even poor quality- has played an extraordinary role in helping solve sensational crimes. And yet, two terror blasts and 17 deaths in Pune since 2010 have not been enough to bring about unanimity on the need for CCTV surveillance cameras at sensitive points in the city.
The latest dispute is over who will pay for CCTVs at commercial establishments such as shopping malls, multiplexes, restaurants, office complexes and other such places of public interest. The Pune unit of the BJP has opposed an order by the Pune municipal commissioner Mahesh Pathak that all these property owners would have to install the equipment within a month and ensure that the footage is stored for at least a month.
As in the case with the German Bakery terror blast on 13 February 2010, there was no CCTV footage available relating to the most recent blast in Pune outside McDonald’s restaurant and the Bal Gandharva Chowk on the busy JM Road. While the two CCTV cameras installed near McDonald’s and Dena Bank were not working, the police was forced to release Dayanand Patil – one of the key suspects who was injured in the blast and arrested in the case. The police declared that Patil was no longer a prime suspect in the case.
Soon after the German Bakery blast, the absence of CCTV footage to identify the suspects was felt acutely by the security agencies. The Pune Police had then demanded installation of 1,000 CCTV cameras in the city. The Pune Municipal Corporation (PMC) drew up a plan but could not implement the proposal for a robust CCTV network in the city. The city, its administrators and politicians woke up only after the recent blast. It was NCP chief Sharad Pawar’s recent criticism of the Home Department that prompted deputy chief minister Ajit Pawar’s announcement that Rs 30 crore would be made available for installation of CCTVs in Pune and the neighbouring Pimpri-Chinchwad township.
While this proposed network will cover important roads, junctions and prominent public spaces, it is necessary that CCTV coverage be made mandatory for commercial establishments such as malls, restaurants, office complexes, theatres and other such places which are populated and gather crowds naturally.
On August 8, the Pune unit of the Bharatiya Janata Party demanded that the PMC withdraw its order making installation of CCTVs mandatory for commercial establishments such as shopping malls, cinema halls, commercial buildings, auditoriums, shops, office complexes, hotels and other such places of public interest. The civic commissioner’s order said that all these property owners would have to install the equipment within a month and ensure that the footage was stored for at least a month.
The BJP’s contention is that law and order is the responsibility of the Pune police and such an order cannot be issued by the PMC. “Why should citizens bear the burden of its installation and maintenance cost?” was the question posed by the city BJP chief, Vikas Mathkari.
It is ridiculous for anyone to expect the civic body or the police to install and manage a CCTV network in commercial establishments on the specious argument that security and law and order is the responsibility of the police and the public authorities. In a nation that has been targeted by terrorists for nearly three decades now, it is necessary that the society as a whole takes adequate precautions, without leaving everything to the government and the police.
Taking responsibility for as basic a measure as CCTV installation is a part of such responsible behavior.