LAHORE: Half of the city is no more under the surveillance of the Punjab Safe City Authority (PSCA) mainly due to financial issues following a `tug of war’ between the police and bureaucracy to get control of the Rs17 billion megaproject.
Official sources say almost 50 percent (4,000) CCTV cameras are offline at a time when Lahore prepares to host some games of the Pakistan Super League and possibly the Bangladesh cricket team matches.
A senior official said almost half of the city’s leading roads, sensitive installations, and government buildings were now out of the range/coverage of the PSCA cameras. “It is a matter of serious concern that the PSCA cameras are not functioning even at prime locations like Faisal Chowk, Regal Chowk, Ali Hajvery shrine and surroundings of the Lahore High Court where terror attacks had been carried out in the past, “ the official said.
The security of several A category religious places of minorities and mosques in various parts of the city is also under threat due to the non-functioning of the cameras.
The last PML-N government in Punjab had established the multi-billion mega project under the Punjab Safe Cities Ordinance 2015 following a concept for improving security and quality of life in complex cities through the use of technology, infrastructure, personnel, and processes.
In the past, the official said, the PSCA had played an integrated role in tracing some terrorism cases and locations of the attackers.
“Presently, the PSCA is starved of funds despite approval by the chief minister to allocate Rs1.49 billion through supplementary grant”, the official said.
He said the operational matters of the authority, particularly of the CCTV cameras, have almost come to a standstill after the finance department stopped releasing funds to it even during the 7th month of the current fiscal.
So far, he said, the department had released Rs 200 million only out of the total supplementary grant to the PSCA which was affecting its functions.
An amount of Rs 266 million earmarked for payment to the technology vendor (Chinese company M/S Huawei) which has been approved by the standing committee for finance and development a couple of months back, was also not released yet.
He said after the approval by the competent authority, the funds were to be issued to the authority in the first week of Nov to address chronic financial issues.
“However, the delay has resulted in crisis regarding operations and maintenance of cameras and key security infrastructure of the PSCA”, he said.
The official said the tussle between the Punjab police and the bureaucracy intensified when bureaucracy tried to bring PSCA under the administrative fold of the Punjab home department through an amendment in rules of business “secretly”.
The home department had made a serious attempt in April last year by moving a summary to the chief minister seeking approval to transfer the control of PSCA from the police to the department.
However, the Punjab cabinet had rejected the summary in May and the CM declared that the Punjab police would run the authority as per previous arrangements. “Since then the PSCA faces hurdles to run its key financial and administrative functions,” the official said.
The lack of support for PSCA has already delayed the safe city projects in Rawalpindi and Murree while the same in DG Khan and Taunsa were also at standstill.
The official said the PSCA further suffered when the company (M/S Huawei) halted maintenance its functions from Dec 1, 2019, due to delay in the provision of funds. Since then the day-to-day security functions of the PSCA including the E-Challan system had almost come to a halt.
Taking notice of the matter, the Punjab chief minister assigned the task to the executive committee of PSCA headed by chief secretary to engage the company to resolve issues amicably but to no avail so far, the official said.
When contacted, Chief Operating Officer of the PSCA DIG Akbar Nasir Khan confirmed to Dawn that currently, 50 percent of cameras of the authority in Lahore was not functioning.
“The first multi-billion mega project of the Punjab police which has proved a game-changer particularly in the fight against terrorism is for the first time at its worst,” he lamented.
Mr. Akbar said the most disturbing issue for them is that a major part of the provincial capital, including several main roads and key installations, were out of PSCA coverage.
He declared the inordinate delay in the release of funds to the Authority was a major issue.
To a question, he said the PSCA top management had been taking up the funds issue with the officers concerned of the Punjab government.
Dr. Akbar, however, was optimistic that the issue would be resolved as authority was making all-out efforts to get the funds released. Punjab Finance Secretary Abdullah Sumbal clarified the position saying that his department was giving out-of-the-way support to strengthen the PSCA.
Talking to Dawn, he said a hefty amount has already been released for the PSCA to run its affairs.
“Recently I made some extraordinary efforts to get another major chunk of funds approved from the cabinet committee on finance and development to meet all basic requirements of the authority”, he said.
An amount to the tune of Rs 1400 million would be provided on a quarterly basis to the authority.
Mr. Sumbal said the PSCA head Ali Amir Malik was on board in this regard who had principally agreed to get funds through the finance department.
“The finance department is fully committed to making the PSCA functional by using all available options and resources”, said Abdullah Sumbal.