ASHRAF JAVED

LAHORE

Like many other development projects, the Punjab government is all set to launch the “Safe City” project in the provincial metropolis by the end of the current year with an estimated cost of Rs4billion.

In a province where about half of the total 750 police stations in 36 districts are functioning in rented accommodations or shabby buildings, its a huge amount for such a project.

The provincial government has jacked up spending on law and order with the police budget allocation alone rising by an unprecedented Rs13 billion for the fiscal year 2015-16. During its budget estimates presented in the Punjab Assembly, the government proposed an allocation of Rs94 billion for the police department against the last year’s allocation of Rs81 billion. The finance minister, who is a lady, also announced another allocation of Rs4 billion for the Safe City. Under this project, the government has been planning strict surveillance of miscreants and offenders by using modern tools including CCTV cameras. Quick police response in cases of crimes and terror is also among the salient features of this initiative. This project of surveillance system would be completed in Lahore by December 2015. However, the project would be launched in Rawalpindi, Gujranwala, Multan, and Faisalabad cities in 2016.

According to insiders, more than 2,000 CCTV cameras would be installed on the leading roads across the Punjab capital for the round-the-clock surveillance. A state-of-the-art command, control, and communication system is being established at the Qurban Police Lines in Lahore for this purpose. Needless to point out in Lahore the crime rate is already low as compared to other big cities.

For instance, crime rate has swelled to an alarming level in other big cities like Rawalpindi, Gujranwala, and Faisalabad. But the government has chosen Lahore for the Safe City project despite the fact that police response and surveillance is also comparatively better in the provincial metropolis. Punjab chief minister believes that big cities would be secured under the Punjab Safe City Project by employing state-of-the-art technology.

In background interviews, government officials and IT experts pointed out that there are many flaws in this project that need to be fixed first. For example, the government has decided to appoint senior police officers on technical slots. According to the qualification/experience required for the post of Project Director, Additional Project Director, and Deputy Project Directors for the Integrated Command, Control, and Communication system they should be police officers of the rank of DIG and SSP. Unfortunately, these police officers would work as additional director and deputy project directors on technical posts like transition and transformation, technology, HR and training. Experts say that only highly-qualified professionals should be appointed on these posts. “If you look at policy of abrupt transfers and postings in the police department, you will find no police officer can lead this institution on regular basis. Every time new officer will come with new ideas,” an official commented.

Some crime experts fear that the safe city project would meet the fate of the 100 Model Police Stations plan which has failed to make any difference.

In early 2012, the PML-N government had announced establishment of 100 MPSs with the motto of making the police corruption-free and the province crime-free. As per the plan, the government had to set up 100 model police stations in two phases in the Punjab province with the provision of modern infrastructure, computer technology, and best resources to the law enforcing agency. But the government failed to honour its commitment regarding the establishment of 100 Model Police Stations . Police sources say the project has virtually been shelved because of lack of funds and resources.

The policemen serving in the so-called model police stations are not being paid salaries as they had been promised. As if not enough, a monthly grant of Rs100,000 to the stations house officer (SHO) of MPSs in big cities and Rs15,000 per month allowance had been proposed. “We are getting salaries like other police officials. No increase, no allowances and no benefits,” said a police officer, who is serving as an SHO at a model police station in Lahore. The officer, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, further said that the lower staff had to beg the notable of the area to run the day-to-day affairs of the police station. “We have to purchase stationery at our own. We have to maintain the official record at our own,” he added. This year, the government has allocated a record amount of Rs 94 billion for the police department but experts say they believe the police stations would not be able to get their shares because most of the funds are consumed by the police hierarchy. And no one can question the powerful police how and where the funds were utilized.

On the other hand, the department is yet to complete the computerization all the 26 police registers even with the help of software designed by the Punjab Information Technology Board. Similarly, the daily registers (roznamchas) of these police stations are not computerised so far whereas an electronic complaint system has been introduced in a few police stations for the convenience of the people. What to say about the computerized system, a duty officer was seen writing an FIR on a plain paper by-hand while another official was using a lead-pencil to fill roznamcha (daily duty chart).

The PML-N government could be given the credit for building mega projects in a short span of time like underpasses and Metro-Bus. But their leaders have completely failed to change Thana culture. In their campaign manifesto, the ruling PML-N had pledged the much-needed police reforms to ensure justice for all in this society.

Like the station house officers (SHOs) of the so-called Model Police Station project, the project director, additional project director, and deputy project directors of the Integrated Command and Control system are promised special project allowance of Rs 80,000 and Rs 60,000 respectively. They are tasked to introduce new technology in the police department, modernize the law and order related infrastructure, and improve the police capabilities. Only policymakers can tell how effectively a police officer can run the affairs of a purely technical project.