Hyderabad: The city ranks 16th among the top 20 most-surveilled cities in the world, according to a report published last month by the UK tech firm Comparitech. It ranked at the top among Indian cities with nearly three lakh CCTVs for a population of over one crore, which means Hyderabad has 30 CCTVs per 1,000 people.
During a Twitter interaction with the public on Sunday, the Telangana minister of IT, KT Rama Rao, said he is “proud that our city is one of the best in the world in terms of number of CCTVs”. The truth, however, is that due to lack of maintenance several CCTVs cameras are defunct.
In an RTI reply two police stations under Cyberabad commissionerate, Jeedimetla and Balanagar, said half of their CCTV cameras do not work. The Jeedimetla police station has 708 cameras within its limits, of which only 466 are functioning, while only 230 CCTVs out of 485 in the Balanagar police station limit are working.
The Station House Officer of Balanagar, Md. Waheeduddin said there are several reasons for not functioning of these cameras, "the primary reason is constructions on the roads by the municipality, then during the monsoon because of the rainwater these cameras stops working and change in the vendors who maintain these cameras."
S.Q Masood who had filed the RTI told NewsMeter that most of the CCTVs in these police limits are installed by residents of the community. “The police encourage people to install these cameras. In its reply, the Jeedimetla police station said 4,042 cameras have been installed under the Nenusaitham programme which are functioning.”
Most of the time the police ask large shop owners and residents to install CCTVs in their areas to prevent incidents. So, does CCTV help prevent crimes? “CCTV footage helps in case of minor incidents. But in case of major incidents, we are not sure if it is helpful,” said Srinivas Kodali, a researcher working on data, governance, and the internet.
While police say that CCTV cameras are for only initial investigation, "CCTV provides initial evidence which makes our investigation fast. We are mostly dependent on finding a motive, background of any case," said, Md. Waheeduddin.
Also, the limited storage capacity of these cameras can be a drawback.“The Jeedimetia police station, in its RTI reply, said the cameras in their area have backup and storage for 30 days while in Balanagar limit the cameras have backup and storage for 20 days. These factors depend on the number of cameras,” added Masood.
The due to lack of clarity and policy on storage of the footage can be a drawback. Masood said, “In an incident of police brutality reported in the old city during the lockdown, when police insisted victim to identify to the officer who was involved, I requested them to look for the CCTV footage. For my surprise the police officer said we don't store more than 7 days. I asked the police to check the CCTV footage but to my surprise, they told me they did not have a backup of more than seven days. It was after that that I filed an RTI to find out for how many days the police have storage and backup of CCTV footage.”
The RTI activist said there is no uniform policy to backup and store CCTV footage. He said while the police depend on these cameras to solve crimes, they do not create files of the footage. “What happens when the police need CCTV footage of a crime that took place a month ago?” asked Masood.
While the police said for the important cases and important incident they maintain the backup, "CCTV storage comes with limitation, we have the backup of all major incident, it's not like that we are not backing up the files," said, Md. Waheeduddin.
Meanwhile, the high number of CCTV cameras in the city also raises privacy concerns. “There are concerns about what kind of agreement the police have with some private companies that have installed CCTV cameras in the city,” said Srinivas Kodali.
"When we come out of our house we are in public purview, there is no such thing called privacy in public and when we are talking about the private company installing cameras and if they have misused it. I have not come till now since 2014 when it was installed first. CCTV is for the general public and it's for their safety," Said While the police said for the important cases and important incident they maintain the backup, "CCTV storage comes with limitation, we have the backup of all major incident, it's not like that we are not backing up the files," said, Md. Waheeduddin.