How many of you remember Moondravathu Kan, the short film featuring comedy actor Vivek which was released to sensitise citizens about the importance of CCTV cameras in crime prevention and detection? Moondravathu Kan (3rd Eye) was actually a project of the Greater Chennai City Police (GCP), introduced by the then Police Commissioner Dr. A.K. Vishwanathan sometime in early 2018, as part of which Chennai saw a significant increase in the number of CCTV cameras in the city.
By forging a public-private partnership, GCP managed to get the shopkeepers, traders and several resident welfare associations to pitch in with their contributions to bring the entire city under the surveillance system.
With a CCTV camera installed every 50 meters this scheme contributed towards transforming the entire policing system. Chennai boasted of having over 2.5 lakh CCTV cameras across every nook and corner of the city and helped in curtailing crime, maintaining law & order and curbing traffic violations.
With such moves, residents were hopeful that there will be an increase in safety and reduction in crime across the city.
Venkatraman Canal Street in Perambur, Ward 71, Zone 6 had become a haven for all sorts of illegal activities given its proximity to three TASMAC shops & liquor bars in the close vicinity which were opened about a decade ago. Chain snatching, drunken brawls, eve teasing, public nuisance, two wheeler thefts, illegal & haphazard parking — the list was endless.
My wife was a victim of two chain snatching attempts right in front of my house. Subsequently a senior citizen was returning to her daughter’s house one evening. Upon request from fellow residents I intervened and helped the family in filing a complaint. We had to curb the menace of chain snatching and we felt that the Moondravathu Kan initiative could help deliver the much needed long term relief.
I lodged a petition with the Chief Minister’s cell and sought their help in securing the neighbourhood with frequent beat patrolling and CCTV surveillance. I continued to follow up on my demands relentlessly and managed to get the then local officials from the Greater Chennai Police to arrange for the installation of 3 CCTV cameras in Venkatraman Canal Street, Ward 70, Zone 6 some time in 2018.
They arranged for a pole to be erected in front of a house at the intersection of Venkatraman Street and Venkatraman Canal Street. The residents of this building raised an objection that the pole should not be erected in front of their gate. The installation of the pole was aborted and the workers decided to relocate the pillar elsewhere. On becoming aware of the issue, I explained to the Police officials who were present at this spot about my interactions with their higher officials and volunteered to get the permissions from the owners of the building where they had originally planned to erect the pillar.
Since the pillar was already installed, I felt there was no point disturbing it. I got the police officials’ permission to install three cameras directly on the wall of the building. The cameras were installed a few days later.
The CCTV cameras acted as a deterrent and the frequency of criminal activities reduced significantly over the next few weeks. Despite following up closely no cameras were fixed on the pillar which was erected at the Saraswathy Street and Venkatraman Street intersection.
There are other empty poles across the neighbourhood waiting for the cameras to be put up for the past four years.
Issues with maintenance
Having had the cameras installed, now maintenance became an issue. During the monsoon following the installation, one of the cameras fixed on the building in Venkatraman Street by the law enforcement agencies had dislodged when the branches of an avenue tree collapsed. The camera was in working condition and had to be fixed on the wall once again.
I sought the help of the local officials at the police station and lodged a petition with the control room. The beat patrol officers turned up at the location and gave me the contact details of the officials in charge of maintaining the CCTV cameras. The officer also called up their subordinates and asked them to do the needful.
Over the next couple of weeks there was no change in the situation. When I called to follow up on the matter, I was informed that the enforcement agencies did not have the resources to maintain the CCTV Camera Network and the only thing they can do is come and disconnect the camera and take it away.
I called the Beat Officer and told him that I will provide the necessary screws and even volunteered to fix the cameras if they agree to come and stand by me when the work is done. The officer spoke to his seniors and arranged for the patrol vehicle to be present at the time when the camera was fixed. I had to undertake the fixing of the camera myself.
Shelving of Moondravathu Kan
A couple of weeks ago the residents of Venkatraman Street aborted an attempted theft. A complaint was lodged with the local police station immediately. The officials from the L&O as well as Crime Branch visited the spot. They asked if there are any CCTV cameras installed in the neighbourhood. The residents who had gathered showed the empty pillar erected by the enforcement agency four years ago for the cameras and sought an explanation from the officers.
We were informed that the Moondravathu Kan project was informally shelved in mid-2020 when the Government of Tamilnadu decided to change the Commissioner of Chennai. The officer added that GCTP no longer takes the responsibility of installing or maintaining the CCTV Cameras or the Control Rooms at the Police Stations and they only encourage residents welfare associations and commercial establishments to install the cameras and maintain them.
They introduced an organisation which specialises in CCTV Camera sales and installation. A small group of residents living in the street wanted to give it a try and contacted the service provider. The engineers turned up the next day and gave us a quotation which was pretty expensive. Most of the residents backed out and others were left with an option of securing their households by installing cameras privately.
Audit reveals lapses
Following this revelation, I decided to conduct an audit on the state of the CCTV Cameras installed across my neighbourhood and in some other parts of the city such as Anna Nagar. The following were my observations:
- Most of the cameras installed by the enforcement agency are not in working condition due to the lack of proper maintenance over the last couple of years. I got to see cameras which were broken and dangling from the supporting pillars.
- The cables leading from the cameras to the DVR in installed nearby buildings were cut, rendering them useless
- Wherever the cameras are working I noticed many of them were focused towards the wall or the floor and not the road. This issue was noticed even in arterial roads.
- Cameras could be seen entangled between the broadband cables and unable to function as a result.
- Control Rooms for the CCTV Network setup at the local police stations seem to be defunct.
Discontinued projects affect residents
Crores of taxpayer money had been spent in securing the streets of Chennai with the CCTV network. The Moondravathu Kan project was welcomed by all residents but died a slow death without much notice. Every scheme implemented by an earlier government or an officer is often shelved when there is a change, regardless of how people-friendly the efforts are.
While residents understand that law enforcement personnel cannot be there all the time to watch over the neighbourhoods, CCTV cameras enabled them to keep watch remotely.
CCTV security systems are designed to last a lifetime. We urge the senior officers from the enforcement agency to take some time out of their busy schedule to review the state of the CCTV infrastructure and do the needful to restore the same.
Senior officials within the ranks of the law enforcement agencies need to consider identifying sensitive locations across the city of Chennai and get the Resident Welfare Associations as well as the commercial establishments to pitch in whatever they can to secure the neighbourhoods. If a few households or apartment complexes in each street install CCTVs it would help us in the long term.
A revival of the shelved project will greatly help residents across the city’s neighbourhoods in feeling safe and having greater control over their surroundings.