August 25, 2017 will go down as the day that Panchkula lost its innocence. Forty people were gunned down, some in residential areas, as buildings and vehicles burnt on “Black Friday”.
Panchkula changed that day in many ways, and the most evident change is the new security consciousness among residents.
In the last one year, resident welfare associations have focused much of their energies on putting up security gates, hiring more security guards while the local administration has introduced hi-tech surveillance with 379 Automatic Number Plate Recognition (ANPR) CCTV cameras.
RWAs in different sectors maintain that the time of strife has taught them a lot, particularly that one has to be on his own guard, Pawan Mittal, father-in-law of former councillor Mamta Mittal, says that only four months ago, the resident welfare association in Sector 2 has installed nine new security gates in the sector.
“Ours was the most affected sector that time and we had no security gates. Residents had to spend moments of fear when they saw protesters entering their houses. Soon after that incident, a move to install security gates was initiated and now just four months back we have had nine of them. Gradually, we will have security guards too,” Mittal said.
Sector 4 Residents Welfare Association has increased the number of its security gates from 5 to 16 now. Jeevan Aggarwal, president of Residents Welfare Association, Sector 6, said that they had increased the number of permanent security guards from five to 10. “That time had we not closed our sector gates, the protesters could have entered our sector as well. Ever since that incident, people of our sector are diligently contributing towards the provision of having security guards which they wouldn’t earlier, especially in the B block. In the absence of funds, we couldn’t have guards. We had just five guards mostly in the A-block but now we have 10 of them as everybody contributes towards their salaries,” Aggarwal said.
The RWA president points out that they have chalked out a plan to have ID card-based electronic entry system in the sector. “We have now planned to have an electronic entry system through which the barrier will open only for that person who shows his Identity card that he is a resident of this sector; for guests, a message would go at the resident’s mobile number whether his entry is to be allowed or not,” Jeevan Aggarwal said.
At present, there are 14 security gates in the sector and 10 security guards. At some places, the gates remain under lock from 7 pm to 7 am while at some locations, they remain locked from 10 pm to 6.30 am. In Sector 8, the local resident welfare association, after the incident, had asked the local civic body for the installation of grills in front of the houses on the road separating sector 8 and 7 so that entry to the area becomes difficult. However, they are still awaiting response from the civic body.
“We have been told that the project is under process. Tenders were floated but since nobody came forward, these will be recalled. These houses are just on the main road and grills are important,” R P Malhotra, president of Sector 8 Residents Welfare Association, said. The sector RWA has installed two hi-tech CCTV cameras at one gate which records the number of the vehicles that have entered too. It is only this gate from where one can make entry in the sector at night as all others remain closed from 11 pm to 5 am. However, the security guards make written entries with particulars of those entering the sector within this time period.
Subhash Papneja, general secretary of RWA, Sector 16, says many residents in their sector have installed CCTV cameras at their individual level. Panchkula Municipal Corporation, on the other hand, in a city surveillance project has covered 30 locations through 279 fully HD day night box cameras, and 33 PTZ cameras. In addition, 15 additional fully HD box cameras with automatic number plate recognition (ANPR) have been installed at some entry places of Panchkula district. Two drone cameras have also been bought so as to be useful during public events or in cases of any violence or public demonstrations. A high-end server along with storage system and video wall has been put up at Sector 14 control room. The project comes at an expenditure of about Rs 13.58 crore. Residents who saw violence say it still haunts them.
Anil Bhalla, a resident of Sector 2, said, “Sometimes, when I go out in my street, those scenes of firing keep flashing. Those people had entered the front courtyard of our house. A man with a stick was hurling stones at the policemen and all of a sudden he was shot at. In fact, in that process, glass of my Innova car parked on the road also broke. Thankfully, we have all gates now. It was a day which we can never forget.”
K K Makkar, senior vice-president of House Owners Welfare Association and a resident of Sector 4, said that people had taken shelter in the green belt near their house. “We spent fearful moments. We could hear the noise of tear gas and firing outside our house,” he said.
Concertina wires which were used at the time of violence to restrict the movement of the protesters continue to lie on the road in Sector 5.