Trend Athira M. focusses on the proliferation of surveillance cameras in the city

Watch out… you are being watched. It might be Orwellian but many residents and public and private institutions in the city are opting for surveillance cameras of different kinds to keep an eye on their surroundings. In the case of the government, since the authorities cannot keep an eye on what is happening in the city 24x7, many departments are turning to the third eye to do the trick. Roads, temples, hospitals, schools/colleges, offices, shopping centres… Big Brother is watching!

Over the last few years, there has been a proliferation of surveillance cameras with not just law enforcement bodies but also individuals and private establishments installing the device to keep different kinds of threats at bay and for many other reasons as well – from nabbing intruders to prevent dumping of waste in public places.

The city police is systematically bringing more areas under the coverage of surveillance cameras. In fact, the capital city has the most number of such cameras, over 200, when compared to Kochi and Kozhikode, says S.T. Gopakumar, project manager, Kerala State Electronics Development Corporation (Keltron) that has installed the cameras. Keltron has set up 34 cameras outside and 45 inside the Sree Padmanabha Swamy Temple.

To enhance security, Technopark will now have 100 cameras, instead of the previous six, to supervise the the sprawling campus. “It was a long-pending decision. Against the backdrop of a series of unfortunate incidents, the cameras would help in curbing any kind of security or safety threat. These devices would be monitored from a room inside the Park Centre,” says K.C. Chandrasekharan Nair, chief finance officer, Technopark. The cameras will cover the roads, all buildings, main entrance and exit and parking areas in Technopark. The work has not been awarded yet and once it gets going, the installation would be completed in three months’ time. Meanwhile, about 50 per cent companies in Technopark have installed cameras on their own.

“There is an increased awareness about safety and the general perception is that if there is a camera, your safety is ensured,” says C.K. Sasikumar, chairman and chief executive officer of Technopark-based One View Systems Pvt Ltd, which launched a surveillance device wherein the customer gets an SMS as well as an email alert if the camera detects an intruder. The company, which has clients in the government, non-government and private sector, is now launching VSaaS (Video Surveillance As A Service) which is a smarter way to manage cameras. “A surveillance device has to be monitored 24x7. We will be having a security team comprising experienced hands who would monitor the equipment from a particular location. We expect to launch it by March. Also, we are bringing in thermal cameras that create images based on the heat that radiates from any object/person. This is for a government department,” he says.

Of late, many professional colleges have installed cameras to stop copying in examination halls. The cameras are much in demand in the real estate sector as well. “These cameras monitor the progress of construction. And these builders even give the owners of the apartment/block the access to those cameras,” Sasikumar says, adding, “Hospitals are increasingly adopting surveillance devices. We installed a camera inside the ICU of a private hospital to enable relatives waiting outside the ICU to see the patient.” Recently, the Health Minister V.S. Sivakumar announced the installation of cameras in ward number nine in General Hospital for round the clock surveillance of the activities there.

Nowadays, the IP (Internet Protocol) cameras are installed not just for security reasons. Many institutions/companies use them to assess performance of the employees. In fact, cameras are now an integral component of furnishing in most shops.

The flipside

However, the big picture emerges only when the costs of installation, maintenance and supervision of cameras are factored in. “We spent Rs.50,000 on five cameras. Also, the positioning of the camera is also important,” says Shyam Vettooran, managing partner of Vettooran Technologies. There should be a provision to record the images so that the footage can be played when needed.

Since they have to be monitored 24x7, one or two residents associations in Karamana that had installed the cameras to check dumping of waste have taken them off. While costs and concerns about privacy are issues that will come under the spotlight, as of now, the cameras seem to be a convenient way to keep track of events in the city.

“People think that surveillance cameras are meant to check traffic violations alone. But they aid us in preventing/detecting crime or any kind of inconvenience to the public as well and that ranges from petty thefts to eve-teasing and trafficking rackets,” says Bijoy P., Assistant Commissioner, Police Control Room. As of now, 223 cameras have been installed across the city, of which 183 were installed last year, and eight are ready to be commissioned. In fact, commuters at East Fort are constantly reminded that they are under the eye of the camera to prevent eve teasing and petty thefts.

“We registered 1,10,000 traffic offences in the last one-and-a-half years, thus collecting Rs. 50 lakh as penalty,” he says. The police has a list of institutions that have installed cameras and this includes commercial establishments such as jewellery shops, textile shops and financial institutions. “They do hand over the visuals to us. We’ve even mooted the idea of having some kind of connectivity between these equipment and the control room,” he says.

The cameras keep a tab on processions and other public meetings as well. “Now people know that we’ve the clippings of every activity and so they refrain from any anti-social activity. These clippings are provided as proof in the court too,” Bijoy says.

Renowned cinematographer Ramachandra Babu, a resident of Aksharaveedhi Road, Pettah, installed a webcam and uploaded the visuals of those dumping waste. He even got these visuals printed and pasted on the walls. “Now the place is clean and more people are opting for pipe composts,” he says.

Similarly, residents of Burma Road, near Kumarapuram, put up five cameras to check waste dumping. Shyam says their firm has already installed cameras in Vattiyoorkavu and Thirumala. In fact, the Corporation had even mooted the idea of installing cameras to stop dumping of waste in public places.

Technopark will now have 100 cameras all around the sprawling campus.

Residents associations put up cameras to catch people who dumped garbage in public places.

Professional colleges install cameras to prevent copying.

Builders want the camera to help customers keep track of the work on their buildings.

Private hospitals opt for cameras in the ICU so that relatives can track the condition of patients in the ICU.

Theatres depend on cameras to prevent vandalisation.