Surveillance cameras infringe privacy of citizens

Kerala Health Minister V. S. Sivakumar has announced that surveillance cameras would be installed in Ward 9 of the General Hospital in Trivandrum. Ward 9 is where the hospital authorities admit older persons who require geriatric and palliative care.

The ward is over crowed with double the number of patients against bed strength. There was complaint that the body of a patient who died was left in the ward for hours without moving it out to the mortuary. The Minister visited the ward in view of the the complaint and reports of pathetic conditions at the ward. His prescription of cameras (in addition to promise of more staff) would deprive the old men of their private moments. Many lie there half-naked often without any relative to care for them. The ward sometimes see emotional outbursts as well as intimate moments with family members.

Surveillance cameras in Trivandrum

Surveillance cameras in Trivandrum

It is not clear why the Minister wants cameras in the ward. Is it for the hospital superintendent or other to keep watch on what is going on in the ward? Is it to check whether bodies are lying on the floor? Is it assist the nurses in keeping tab on the patients owing to shortage of staff? Or is it to see whether the patients are being care for or is it to keep prying media men out of the precincts? Whatever it is, surveillance cameras in hospital wards is not a good idea.

It is not even good for classrooms. Some tuition masters and schools in the city have installed cameras in their classrooms to keep tab on the students. What kind of attitudes would children develop when they are aware that they are being constantly watched upon? Classrooms are not private places. Still, they have a right to some kind of privacy, at least during intervals.

Traffic police and Motor Vehicles Department are also increasingly using cameras for surveillance.There are more than 500 cameras installed in Trivandrum city while Kochi have about half the number. Cameras from private establishments are also being connected to the police control rooms. You will be watched as you pray at the Sri Padmanabha Swamy temple in Trivandrum (though not at the sanctum sanctorum). Some residence associations are also setting up cameras to find people dumping waste in this locality though the legality of installing such surveillance by private persons in public places is in doubt.

Traffic surveillance camerasVehicles as well as citizens are under constant watch along the main thoroughfares of the city. Though the cameras help to book traffic offences by capturing screenshots of violations, police men are still on the streets directly booking offenders. So, harassment of drivers and corruption do not disappear.

Anyway, the police still need personnel at junctions to regulate traffic and it doubtful whether monitoring of the video feeds are constant. If effective monitoring of all junctions and other points are to be done, one requires a large number of personnel at the control rooms. This cannot be cost effective despite the advantages of the technology and falling costs of equipment. (The 57 cameras at Padmanabha Swamy temple reportedly cost about Rs. 15 millions).

Besides, misuse of the system by police as well as private citizens could not be ruled out. When police criminal nexus exists, surveillance could even aid criminals and quotation gangs. It is any way a case of big boss watching over the citizens from all angles. Police can use the system to track movements of politicians, journalists and others. Though it is said that camera surveillance would help to check crimes, it effectiveness is yet to be proved (except in the case of traffic offences). The advantage could be limited as cameras would only force shifting of occurrence of crimes  from city centres to the suburbs. Somewhere we have to strike a balance between privacy, surveillance and prevention of crimes.

Kochi Metro project and E. Sreedharan

The controversy over Kochi Metro Rail points to people’s lack of trust over Chief Minister Oommen Chandy and his government, and for that matter, any government in Kerala. They trust octogenarian E. Sreedharan (former MD of Delhi Metro Rail Corporation) to complete the Metro project efficiently and without much time lag.

Mr. Sreedharan naturally wants an organisation behind him and he wants the one that he is familiar with — the Delhi Metro Rail Corporation (DMRC). And DMRC had agreed to be behind him and the only formality that remained was ratification of agreement by the director boards of the DMRC and the Kochi Metro Rail Limited formed to implement the project.

Now the DMRC is backtracking under oblique pressure from politicians and bureaucrats who want to the contract to be entrusted to others.  It is clear that the arguments being advanced against DMRC participation are just being raised as excuses.  While every private company wants to expand, the public sector DMRC just wants to confine itself to Delhi!  It maintains that it is too preoccupied with its work in Delhi that it does not have the resources to undertake work in Kerala.

Delhi Metro

Delhi Metro       Photo: Roy Mathew

If this is true, one wonders why it had agreed to participate and had even undertaken preliminary works. If DMRC had any real problems in taking up the work, would not Mr. Sreedharan and others known that?

This is not to say that the DRMC could be the most qualified company to undertake the work. It depended on multinational companies for civil works, design, and installation of signaling and electrical works for Delhi Metro. The coaches were imported. As a contractor for the Delhi airport express metro line, the DMRC had faltered. It had built the line for Reliance and operations had to be suspended in six months for rectification of problems.

However, the bet here is on Mr. Sreedharan who has a clean image. The Opposition and large section of people believe that large scale corruption and delays would occur if Sreedharan is not overseeing the project.

Related blog post:
Project review (in Malayalam)

Petrol, automobiles and the rich

A lot of noise is generated in Kerala every time the petrol and diesel prices go up. However, does most of the Malayalees care about the price rise except for the political rhetoric generated over that?

The only section that cares is the ordinary office goes who don’t get a vehicle allowance. However, even for the government employee, today’s price hike came with an announcement of seven per cent dearness allowance with retrospective effect from January.

The worst affected is those living below the poverty line. However they don’t often realise the impact of petrol prices when announced. They feel it in the form of bus fare hikes later, and all round increase in prices which they may fail to connect to the fuel costs.

car show room

An automobile showroom in Malappuram district

For the neo-rich, it does not matter. There is enough money in their hands to burn off petrol and diesel whatever be the costs. One sees a few drivers in posh vehicles parked on the Secretariat lawns every day burning away diesel to run the air-conditioners while their bosses or relatives visit ministers and officials at the Secretariat.  (Those in the Secretariat do not care though it pollutes the area.)

For many, money is pouring in from Gulf countries. The value of rupee has plummeted, and that means increased incomes for those at home. So, who care about the petrol price hikes? The Malappuram district, which was one of the most backward districts in the State, now sports large vehicle show rooms and shopping centres.  The largest show rooms of car dealers could now be seen along the highway between Angadippuram and Malappuram.  The Muslim League Ministers have seen to it that the road network improved.

However, the road network across the State is far from sufficient for increasing number of passenger car units. One sees large vehicles transporting cars blocking the highways and the problem is going to increase with increasing container traffic from Vallarpadam and Vizhinjam port (when realized).

Proposals for expressway and widening of major highways are in limbo. Other works like the Kerala Road Development Project are in limbo. So, also are the proposals to improve the public transport system, especially the rail network including metros and mono rails.

Kerala will be burning away more petrol in the coming years as the traffic slows down along all major roads and highways.  The government does see the problem, but is failing to act. Well, in Pathanamthitta, they want an airport.


And again the Petrol Price Hike!!!