First the good news. The Pakistan Railways has announced that it will install CCTV cameras, walk-through gates and scanners at major railway terminals across the country. The aim is to improve security and combat terrorism, and few would argue against such a move. Electronic surveillance of public spaces across the world has provided both warnings and evidence when it comes to detecting and preventing terrorist activity. In addition to watching out for suspicious characters we are told that the new CCTV system will be used to monitor those in violation of the no-smoking rules in public places. Unfortunately that is where the bad news cuts in. It will be recalled that all of the CCTV cameras were inoperative at the Lahore railway station when a blast occurred in April this year, killing two and injuring about 30. Neither was any of the electronic gates working or manned. The new systems are to be connected to computer rooms at the stations and we are all to sleep safer in our beds.
The reality is that even if these systems are installed and commissioned they are unlikely to survive more than a few days or weeks as they rapidly degrade and become inoperative at the behest of those whose activities they are designed to curtail. There has never been a satisfactory explanation as to why the cameras in Lahore were so conveniently off on the day of the fatal blast. As to walk-through gates, unlike airports, railway perimeters are as porous as sponges and if a traveller does not wish to pass a security portal they simply go through the hole in the fence conveniently sited close by. For a CCTV security system to be effective on the railways other places of access and egress need to be plugged or monitored, and security viewed in a holistic sense. The system needs to be manned 24/7, firewalled against political and criminal interference and guaranteed a budget year-on-year that will ensure its continuity. If the powers that be are not willing to commit to that then they had rather employ half a dozen blind beggars to do pat-downs at the gate of every railway station. Cheaper and probably no less effective.