Are safe city authorities actually making Lahore safe?

PSCA spokesperson claimed that the best results have been obtained from the monitoring system of the project

Noman Sheikh April 08, 2019
Muslims walk near the Badshahi mosque after attending a mass prayer for Eid al-Adha in Lahore, Pakistan. PHOTO: REUTERS

LAHORE: Information technology is being relied upon more and more the world over to monitor and improve bureaucracies’ capacity to deliver.

In the case of the Lahore safe city project and the Punjab Safe City Authority (PSCA), the bureaucracy involved appears to have turned IT solutions into nuisances instead.

Where most authorities attribute the fall in crime in Lahore to the Dolphin Force, the PSCA has been claiming credit for itself.

Its actual success and efficacy, however, can be gauged from the tragic Sahiwal incident. CTD officials in the city stopped a car that PSCA had flagged and killed four passengers, including a teenage girl.

Meanwhile, car and motorcycle theft is on the rise in Lahore. Citizens are being deprived of their valuables but the procedure laid down by the PSCA to obtain any information about an incident is backbreaking. In order to avail required information about a particular incident, one has to submit an application to the PSCA office with a strong reason as to why the person needs the information. The process could have been simplified by allowing it with a call on 15.

Under the pretext of e-challan, citizens are being mentally tortured. Legally, the one responsible for poor driving must pay the fine and face legal action but the bureaucracy of the PSCA find it hard to understand this legal point and challans were issued to vehicle owners according to excise records.

Under the pretext of action against e-challan defaulters, the Dolphin Force and the PRU (Police Response Unit) are being used as machinery for administrative purposes and several incidents of misbehaviour with citizens have been reported. Police officers who help citizens on humanitarian grounds are summoned to the PSCA Qurban Line and humiliated which has now become a common practice.

The opinions of the police officers at the Lahore police stations level is that the working of the Lahore police is apparently with the DIG operations but in reality, the functioning rests with the PSCA administrators.

Instead of improving its working, the safe city project is using every possible means to utilise the powers of the police officers.

For example, in the case of motorcycle thefts, police are depended in PSCA to identify and track the location of the stolen vehicle. While it takes forever to the PSCA to provide the required information. In many cases, it has failed altogether to locate the record of the vehicles snatched.

The police officers also claim that they could obtain the footage from the CCTV cameras installed at private spots without much hassle but acquiring the same from their department was a hectic task and a police officer has to prove his loyalty to the department for this purpose.

If the performance is taken into account, the safe city project has no worthwhile accomplishments expect for the arrest of a few petty criminals involved in the stealing of side view mirrors of cars.

Owing to the cameras and the mutual contact of traffic signals, the Lahore's road traffic had to be controlled at the central level but this could not be achieved even to this day. The wardens are still running the traffic manually or through the control panels installed nearby the signals.

The failure of the safe city project would rest with the attitude of the administrators.

On the other hand, the PSCA spokesperson claimed that the best results have been obtained from the monitoring system of the project as the Punjab Safe Cities Authority has so far reported 66,114 cases of law violations and suspicious activities while 600 playback footages of different incidents were provided to the police officers for investigation purposes. Also, digital evidence in 260 cases were given to the police to help in the investigation while the PRU with the help of cameras installed in the city, checked more than 4,723 vehicles and 260 suspicious persons through the Dolphin squad. The spokesperson said the action was taken against 6,654 vehicles and motorcycles for not having number plates.

As many as 336,034 calls were received by the police's 15 emergency helpline. Cases were registered on 41,529 calls and 25,331 calls were received for obtaining different information while 245,564 calls were listed as the hoax. The safe city authorities dispatch centre provided help to citizens in 66,114 cases. In the current year, only in March, aid was provided in 1,617 cases of rescue and 1,746 cases of traffic. The spokesperson said as many 211 protests and rallies were monitored through digital surveillance from the centre. The lost and found centre helped nine missing persons unite with their families. In the past one month, 114 motorcycles, one car and seven rickshaws were recovered and handed over to their owners.