LAHORE - Chinese engineers, nowadays, are seen fixing high-tech cameras on poles alongside roads in Lahore as part of the Punjab Safe City Authority project.

Hundreds of CCTV cameras are installed on important roads, public places, key installations, and crime hot-spots. Authorities plan fitting more than 10,000 cameras at 2000 different locations to secure people and properties in Lahore. But, this project is still at its initial stage because only less than 700 cameras are installed yet.

This year in June, the provincial government claimed that the mega project would be completed in Lahore by June 2017. In her budget speech, Punjab Finance Minister Dr Ayesha Pasha stated that the project of comprehensive surveillance system would be completed in Lahore by June 2017 and in other five big cities of the province by Dec 2017.

“A high-tech surveillance system with an estimated cost of Rs13 billion has been launched in Lahore in the first phase,” claimed Dr Pasha, adding that it would be completed by June 2017. “This project will be completed in other five big cities By December 2017,” she said while addressing provincial assembly.

During the current fiscal year, the government proposed Rs145 billion for under the head of law and order. The planned spending has been jacked up from last year’s Rs94 billion. The Punjab Safe City project will get Rs44 billion during the years to come.

Now authorities say this project will be extended to another six big cities of the province including Faisalabad, Rawalpindi, Gujranwala, Multan, and Bahawalpur in a different phases. Under this project, the government is planning strict surveillance of miscreants and offenders by using modern tools including CCTV cameras. The scheme will also help police eliminate street crimes from the society.

Lahore has been chosen in the first phase despite the fact that police response and surveillance is comparatively better in the provincial metropolis as compared to other big cities.

Lahore DIG (Operations) Dr Haider Ashraf says the safe city project will definitely help police in crime prevention and deterrence in big cities. “This is a complete and comprehensive network of communications. This will improve our working in terms of police response to crime victims. The crime rate will further decrease in Lahore once the project will be launched fully.”

At the main nerve-center, also called integrated command, control, and communication centre, different spots of the city are on display on large-size screens. “Our officers can click on any point and enlarge the picture and they can see what is happening there,” the DIG explained to The Nation.

The basic idea is to enable the law enforcement agency to monitor all roads and streets in Lahore from a centralised system, said the DIG (Operations). “Every incident from street fighting to processions and violation of traffic rules to armed robberies would be saved in the surveillance cameras. This exercise will help cut down the crime rate in Lahore.”

Punjab Chief Minister Shehbaz Sharif believes that big cities could be secured under the Punjab Safe City Project by employing state-of-the-art technology. The CM inaugurated the project in Lahore in October and termed it as ‘Asia’s biggest safe city project’. He further said the project is four times larger than Islamabad Safe City project.

The Islamabad command center spreads over 2,009 square meters, and all cameras connected to it require 500 kilometers of fiber-optic cables and are operated through a 4G network.

Security experts fear that the Lahore Safe City project is unlikely to be completed on time. According to them, the project already faced a one-year delay. The Islamabad safe city project was completed in two years with 1,800 cameras. The system has the capability to keep a record of voice conversations for three years. Moreover, evidence record will be saved for seven years. A 30 days data record will be maintained under the umbrella of the project.

During its test-phase, the project was made functional during Muharram in Lahore as hundreds of cameras were installed in the walled city. The main mourning procession was electronically monitored from the command and control center established in Qurban Lines. Satellite imagery of the procession routes was also available.

In a province where about half of the total 750 police stations in 36 districts are functioning in rented accommodations or shabby buildings, the government is spending huge amount for such a project. During background interviews, government officials and IT experts pointed out that there were many flaws in this project that need to be fixed first. For example, the government appointed 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 the candidates were 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 suggest 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.

Following Karachi and Islamabad, Lahore is the third city in the country which is being equipped with high-tech cameras connected with integrated video surveillance system. A Chinese technology firm has been engaged for the project.