Mumbai: Her two-year fight bears fruit but woman yet to get CCTV footage

Srinath Rao
Mumbai, Mumbai news, Mumbai illegal construction, assault by neighbours, indian express

The complainant claims the footage will clearly show that she and her husband were assaulted by our neighbours and that the police did nothing.

Despite an order last week to each police station in the state to store footage from CCTV cameras in their premises and provide copies to applicants after scrutinising complaints, a South Mumbai resident, whose dogged pursuit for answers through the Right to Information (RTI) Act forced the police department to act, is yet to receive a copy of footage from Sir J J Marg police station.

The applicant, 40-year-old Farida Qureshi, who lives a stone’s throw away from the police station, had approached it on February 4, 2018, to complain about an alleged illegal construction in the common passage by her neighbour in Princess Building.

Over the course of the next few hours, leading into the next day, a mob allegedly led by her neighbour assaulted Qureshi and her disabled husband, even as police filed a non-cognizable complaint. The same day, Qureshi submitted an RTI application to the Assistant Commissioner of Police, Dongri division, seeking CCTV footage from J J Marg police station between 7.30 pm on February 4 and 1 am on February 5. “The footage will clearly show that my husband and I were assaulted by our neighbours and that the police did nothing,” said Qureshi, who is a teacher employed with the Mira Bhayander Municipal Corporation.

Her application was subsequently rejected by the ACP on grounds that CCTV footage is saved only for a limited time and is no longer available. After her appeal before the Deputy Commissioner of Police, Zone I, was also rejected on similar grounds, Qureshi filed a second appeal before the State Information Commission.

The commission nearly threw her case out when she arrived a few minutes late for the hearing in June 2018. “...When I explained to the then Information Commissioner Ajit Kumar Jain that I suffer from a blood pressure problem and was delayed as a result, he reversed his decision,” she said. In an order issued on August 18, 2018, the commission directed the Mumbai Police to provide Qureshi a copy of the CCTV footage.

However, this was not the end of her ordeal. When police failed to comply, Qureshi lodged a complaint before the commission in January. The next month, Jain directed the Additional Chief Secretary, Home, to institute an inquiry into the inordinate delay, identify officials responsible and submit a report in three months.

The commission also observed, in another order issued on November 14, that the Mumbai Police had repeatedly ignored earlier orders to “shield individuals against whom Qureshi had complained”. It noted that the delay had caused Qureshi “mental, physical and financial strain”.

The commission directed the state home department, Maharashtra Director General of Police and the Mumbai Police Commissioner to ensure that police stations under their command saved and stored CCTV footage and provided copies after thoroughly perusing applications.

It was only after the commission sent a second reminder to the police department last month that it finally issued instructions to police stations. A senior state police official said at present, CCTV cameras installed in police stations across the state did not follow a uniform standard.

“In major cities, we have installed cameras while in some districts, cameras are often sponsored by MP and MLA funds or funded by cooperatives. There is no common standard on camera resolution or data storage,” the official added. However, the decision by the state government last month to increase the budget to install CCTV cameras in police stations to Rs 110 crore will lead to significant improvements, the official said.

This is an especially sensitive issue in the state where police are in the dock in multiple cases of custodial death, the latest of which is that of 26-year-old Vijay Singh’s at Wadala TT police station last month. The first phase of widespread CCTV camera installation at police stations took place only after 24-year-old Agnelo Valdaris was allegedly tortured to death at the Wadala railway police station in 2014.

“The project will be executed by state government and a set of standards will be introduced. At present, CCTV cameras at different police stations have varying storage capacities. So it becomes difficult if someone asks for even week-old footage. We have told police stations not to outright deny providing footage to an applicant, but to decide after studying each case,” the official said.

While the commission has not specified the minimum duration for which footage must be preserved, in Karnataka, the State Information Commission has mandated that footage should be saved and stored for six months.

Qureshi, however, is yet to receive a copy of the footage or hear from the home department about its inquiry. “It is difficult for citizens to take on an arm of the state government. Since the police department is yet to comply with the commission’s order, I will now approach the Bombay High Court,” she said.