In 2018, the Punjab Safe City Authority had inaugurated a network of over 8,000 closed-circuit television systems across Lahore, in a bid to deter crime and terrorism in the provincial capital.
At the time, former chief minister Shahbaz Sharif had touted the project as an attempt to bid farewell to the United States’ historic interference in matters of national security, and move towards a more self-reliant Pakistan. However, the autarkic glory could only last so long, until the city’s video surveillance cameras started malfunctioning one after the other in a matter of years.
As of today, over 25 per cent of Lahore’s CCTV systems have reportedly gone blind—in absence of repairs in the last two years—while the irony is that a foreign company has been contacted to resurrect the dead cameras.
Speaking in this regard, Safe City Managing Director and Chief Operating Officer Kamran Khan said that out of the 8,000 CCTV cameras, over 2,200 are currently out of order. “But we have held negotiations with a foreign company to not only make the needful repairs but also replace existing batteries for good measure,” Khan added.
The Safe City Managing Director however maintained that the project was established in 2016 and made operational in 2018, following which the company that installed the cameras was responsible for maintenance and repairs for a period of five years. “For whatever reason, the company did not abide by the agreement for some time, which caused the delays in repairs. But a new agreement has been reached and they are now ready to make the repairs.”
Per sources privy to Safe City Project, blinded cameras have made it difficult for the authorities to monitor crime in Lahore, which has in turn resulted in increased crime-rate in certain areas.
“Punjab Safe City Authority now collaborates with the One-Five system to monitor and apprehend crime. But we also rely on the cameras to monitor a variety of other things like traffic, smog and sanitation,” the source informed.
The city of Lahore has long been ground-zero for a laundry-list of violent protests. Sources reveal that every time there’s such a protest in the city, protestors are first to smash the Safe City cameras installed on major highways. “They fear being identified and rounded up by the police post-protest, so destroying the cameras helps cover their tracks,” a source commented.
The police believe that the closed-circuit cameras are a valuable asset to the city’s security and has requested the government to install more video surveillance devices in at least 131 Safe City Authority locations around Lahore. This would mean an addition of 490 camera systems; on top of the 8,000 existing units.
In addition to that, as an expansion of the Safe City project, some 11 cameras are prescribed to be installed around the Sialkot-Lahore Motorway and Ring Road area, that covers Lahore’s entrance and exit points, in addition to other locations.
“Funds have been allocated for this in the budget of the current financial year, and it is believed that surveilling vehicles that enter and exit the city will help control Lahore’s law and order situation,” a source informed The Express Tribune.