Nov 28, 2008

India - CCTVs at CST, Taj can nail Mumbai terrorists

Leslie D'Monte

Technology — both hardware and software — may not have been able to stop the terrrorists from firing indiscriminately with their Ak-47(s) and M5(s) at innocent targets. However, they can fully reconstruct the entire episode since surveillance equipment like closed circuit TVs (CCTVs) at the Chattrapati Shivaji Terminus (CST) and the Taj and the Oberoi hotels would have captured and recorded the images of the terrorists.

This can help the police nail them.Mumbai is no stranger to technology like CCTVs and metal detectors. Security firms like Zicom, Honeywell, Siemens and Godrej have installed surveillance equipment to cover the city with virtual eyes (CCTVs) that observe and record round the clock. The entire 30 km stretch from CST (formerly Victoria Terminus) to Thane has CCTVs.

Zicom, on its part, has installed 820 CCTVs covering the entire stretch of Churchgate to Virar (around 60 km). It has installed around 100 CCTVs at all traffic signals in Mumbai (cost only around Rs 4 crore). Besides famous temples like Siddhivinayak in Dadar have CCTVs too.

The cost to the government is not prohibitive. The Churgate-Virar belt installation, for instance, was not expensive since the equipment was installed by Zicom for which it did not charge the government. The state government pays around Rs 11 lakh per month as service fees.

However, the coastal area is very poorly protected when it comes to technology surveillance. Security experts said this is because the government considers it “a wasteful expenditure, and wakes up when terrorist attacks happen only to forget it a few days later”.

For instance, Mumbaiites got an SMS minutes after the terrorists fled in two vehicles with registration plates MH01 ZA102 and MH01 BA5179. “If anyone sees these vehicles, please call the police on 100”, the SMS read. The authorities should go much beyond this simple use of technology, security experts suggested.

“Why not imitate the American experience of technology surveillance?” asked internet security expert and Ficci security committee head Vijay Mukhi. He notes that all airports in the US can detect an unattented bag in a little under five minutes while a whole bag of arms gets into the Taj and the Oberoi hotels undetected.

“India hardly spends anything on electronic surveillance. We should increase our spend to thwart such incidents,” he asserts.

The security industy, meanwhile, is requesting the government to create legislation so that security becomes mandatory, according to Pramoud Rao, President of the Fire and Safety Association of Industries (FSAI) and MD of Zicom.

FSAI has around 350 security firms as its members. The government could also lower the prices of surveillance equipment by giving the security industry tax sops on the lines of the US and Chinese governments.

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