A multi-million- dollar question

December 5, 2021

There seems to be no end to incidents of street crime in Lahore. Just what is the Punjab Safe City Authority doing?

Photo by Rahat Dar
Photo by Rahat Dar

In recent times, the provincial metropolis has witnessed a surge in street crime, which calls in question the utility and purpose of the much-trumpeted Punjab Safe City Authority (PSCA) project.

In fact, given that more than 40 percent of the cameras are defective and unable to read vehicle registration plates or capture clear images at night, the multi-million-dollar project seems to have been reduced to monitoring the traffic flow and public rallies.

The whole network of CCTV and security cameras on checkpoints is unable to produce the desired results. Or, how do you explain the recent attack on a woman journalist in broad daylight, or the ignominious Minar-i-Pakistan incident? In the latter case, it is evident that the security cameras weren’t of any help in investigation. That’s why when the challan of the case was submitted in the court, the only footage available with the investigators was what they had acquired from the cell phones of private people.

For the uninitiated, the Safe City Project was launched in 2010, by the then PPP-led government, after terrorism had assumed alarming proportions in the country. Consequently, billions of rupees were invested in the project which was touted to fight terrorism and protect the citizens from all types of street crime. In 2016, during the PML-N tenure, a network of security cameras and scanners was built. It covered most parts of urban areas, especially the major cities but also some towns. Lahore remained the prime focus of the government in this regard.

However, the project hit a snag at the very outset — there were issues related to the import and installation of scanners, cameras being of low quality, the design of the network, staff being untrained et al. That the crime rate has only increased over time is proof of the fact that the project has been a failure.

One disturbing fact about the project is that the cameras installed don’t have night vision capability.

When contacted, the PSCA Chief Operating Officer, DIG Muhammad Kamran Khan, tells a different story. Contesting the impression that the PSCA is not playing a significant role in dealing with street crime, he says, “As many as 10,000 videos produced by the cameras and later submitted in the courts in criminal cases of different nature are ample proof of the efficacy of the project.”

Photo by Rahat Dar
Photo by Rahat Dar
According to DIG Muhammad Kamran Khan, PSCA COO, “The whole system has been integrated with the police emergency helpline (15), making the PSCA a state-of-the art police service to ensure a timely response to emergencies and crime prevention.

According to him, presently, there are about 8,000 cameras installed in different parts of Lahore for surveillance purposes. Besides, 180-odd trained persons are working round-the-clock, in three shifts, to keep a watch on what’s happening in the city.

The DIG maintains that the project is so significant for the law enforcement agencies, especially the police, that 30 to 40 investigators visit the PSCA head office at Qurban Lines for assistance in different cases every day. “Our in-house law officers are able to extend timely help [to the investigators] after following certain legal procedures,” he adds. “The videos and other data provided by the PSCA are of great help in the investigation of cases. The videos are taken in the courts as admissible evidence.”

That said, it would be gross injustice to expect that crime can be controlled by enhancing the capacity of the safe city projects alone. The increase in street crime, the DIG says, is due to several factors, chiefly socio-economic conditions and a low rate of convictions in the courts.

He admits that in the past more than half of the cameras installed in the city streets have been out of order because of low maintenance budget. “It was primarily because the Chinese company that had installed the security cameras left the project midway, citing the changed dollar-rupee parity as the reason.”

The DIG says that the crime rate in the city has come down considerably thanks to the Safe City project. “The CCTV cameras are a great deterrent for saboteurs and anti-social elements.

“In the past, the analysis of crimes and subsequent strategies to deal with them were prepared only considering the registered number of incidents. This was a flawed approach. Today, it’s a different ballgame altogether — we’ve to keep in mind the unregistered incidents too, so that a preventive line of action can be taken against the criminals and anti-social elements. The whole system has been integrated with the police emergency helpline (15), making the PSCA a state-of-the art police service to ensure a timely response to emergencies and crime prevention.”

The writer is a senior journalist and can be reached at ahsanzia155@gmail.com

A multi-million- dollar question