A good initiative, but still a long way to go
The instalment of CCTV cameras in city buses by the Ministry of Women and Children Affairs has generated a positive response among female commuters as well as bus staffers, as they believe the initiative has brought a change in the behavioural pattern of the overall commuters.
However, they also said the pilot initiative -- under which CCTV cameras have been installed in 100 buses of Projapoti Paribahan Ltd (Mohammadpur to Abdullahpur), Rajdhani Super Services Ltd (Chandra to Demra Staff Quarter), Basumoti Transport Ltd (Gabtoli to Gazipur) and Poristhan Paribahan Ltd (Ghatarchar to Abdullahpur) -- on mid-October this year is just a drop in the ocean.
Shammi Akhter, a second-year college student, who usually travels to Abdullahpur from Mirpur-10 on a Projapoti Paribahan bus, said, "The initiative significantly changed the environment inside the bus."
"Whenever anyone notices the camera, they act differently compared to how they used to previously. It seems that male passengers are now more aware of giving space to women," she said.
Whenever anyone notices the camera, they act differently compared to how they used to previously. It seems that male passengers are now more aware of giving space to women.
"Getting inappropriately touched by the helper while boarding or getting off was somewhat common a few months ago. Now, they also refrain from doing this," she added.
Rakhi Yasmin, a private university student, who commutes regularly on Rajdhani buses, said, "Earlier, perpetrators thought they would not face any consequence if they do anything with ill intention. Thanks to the cameras, they would not be able to hide."
"This initiative would be more impactful if the authorities could increase the coverage by installing CCTV cameras in every bus," she added.
Sania Afroza, another regular commuter of Basumoti Transport, however, claimed that she is aware of the CCTV cameras installed in her bus. However, the problem lies elsewhere as she said she could not avail of a single such bus in the past three weeks.
"I think the number of buses with CCTV cameras is way fewer for anyone to avail regularly," she said.
This newspaper also failed to trace a single bus with a camera during a two-hour visit to Gabtoli.
Drivers and conductors said they have not yet received any single complaint of any kind of harassment after the installation of the cameras. It has also made their job of ensuring the safety of female commuters easy.
Rakib Hasan, a helper of Rajdhani Super Services Ltd, said the number of snatching and pickpocketing has also reduced recently.
"It's a good sign," he said.
People were criticising us for installing the cameras in dilapidated public buses. But our regular female commuters can only afford to board those very buses for their day-to-day travel.
Sumon Islam, a Projapoti Paribahan passenger, said it was a wise decision to install the cameras to catch the real perpetrators, as male passengers often had to face false accusations.
"Now, the camera itself will act as the evidence of such acts," he added.
Zakia K Hasan, executive director of the project's implementing agency Dipto Foundation, said, "Our specialised team has been routinely monitoring the overall performance and progress of the initiative,"
"People were criticising us for installing the cameras in dilapidated public buses. But our regular female commuters can only afford to board those very buses for their day-to-day travel," she said.
"We have also been overwhelmed with the acceptability of the bus owners, as they want to bring more buses of their companies under surveillance," added Zakia.
Visited, Saiful Hasan, deputy manager of Genex Infosys Ltd, who has been looking after the central monitoring system (CMS), said a three-member team has been regularly monitoring the footage in two shifts. So far, they have not noticed a single incident of sexual harassment.
"Rather, we have noticed an incident, where a middle-aged man stopped eyeing up young women while they were getting in, after noticing the camera. Recently, a quarrel over the bus helper and a commuter also stopped after they saw the camera," he added.
Zakia also reported the CMS has already identified a few challenges and reported those to the ministry project director.
Such as, after the e-ticketing service was introduced, the owners reduced the number of buses plying on the roads. Currently, only around 70 out of 100 buses ply Dhaka roads regularly.
A visit to the CMS in mid-December also revealed that only 64 buses were under surveillance on that very day.
The cameras were found covered in a few buses, mentioned the CMS team, which was later solved upon contacting the responsible supervisors.
Occasionally, the batteries of the buses are removed to recharge. The cameras are then shown going offline. This sometimes makes it difficult to track the buses, especially in locations having poor 4G connections.
Deepak Kumar Roy, project director on the ministry end, however, said he is currently working on identifying the loopholes and mitigating those.
"I believe we had to be more cautious while selecting the routes, especially covering the roads that are travelled by more RMG workers or female office goers," he said.
"Usually, the bus staffers consider it a hassle being monitored all the time. We are working on sensitising them. Additionally, we have to work further on strengthening the monitoring mechanism and introducing a reporting system, since only monitoring is not enough to eradicate the problem," he added.
Currently, a plan is underway by Dipto to place a sticker with a hotline number for reporting incidents of sexual harassment to the CMS.
"Through this, the CMS will be able to directly report any untoward situation to law enforcement agencies," said Zakia.