For the past few months, close to 300 “prying“ CCTV cameras have been tracking “unlawful“ activities on the IIT-Bombay campus. A couple of “untoward“ incidents in the recent past prompted the institute to install the electronic cameras at several locations, from corridors in the academic area to laboratories, auditoriums, hostels, and entry and exit points, for security reasons.

What baffled a section of faculty members was the installation of surveillance cameras inside the classrooms and in the hostel common rooms. Some perceive it as an intrusion on the `free teaching learning' space, even as many others are silent or are indifferent. A recent mail from the institute administration mentioned that these cameras were just the first phase of installations.

“Classrooms are sacrosanct spaces meant for free interaction between students and their professors. If there is constant monitoring, professors will remain guarded. One will have to watch their words before speaking. Opinions will be stifled, even if the intention behind installing the cameras does not intend to do that. Discussions with political connotations will be curtailed at individual level,“ a professor said, adding that there had been no security breach inside a classroom ever.

An institute official said there had been thefts at IIT-B. “There are several expensive gadgets owned by students these days, including laptops, tablets, cellphones. Many a times, outsiders are involved in such thefts. The campus is huge and we do not have that kind of manpower to secure it. It is better to replace manpower with technology wherever we can,“ the official said, adding that the footage can be accessed by only authorised persons.

Some of the professors claimed there had been no untoward incidents inside a classroom. “There are about eight large auditoriums for lectures and about two dozen smaller classrooms. The larger ones have multiple cameras installed. And these cameras are being monitored live, which seems very unnecessary, even if it means no harm. The lectures are recorded for no good reason. CCTVs are required at entry-exit points, busy intersections inside the campus, but classrooms and common rooms seem like an intrusion,“ a professor said.

An IIT-B spokesperson said the classrooms were used be yond lecture time too. “Many stu dents work 24 hours. They do research work after classroom time. It is good to have a security cover across,“ the spokesperson said. Another official said the system can even be used to keep an eye out for malpractices in exams.

A professor said the premier institute would fail to instil integrity if it had to make use of CCTVs to deter students from malpractices. “We are moving to more liberal practices like open book tests, take home tests and these reasons are not acceptable,“ one said.

A recent communication issued by the institute read: “We have installed 284 CCTV cameras at the public places including large lecture halls ....“

Another communication sent to students said CCTV cameras had been installed in common rooms, including lounge, gym room and dance rooms.“Please refrain yourself from ... inappropriate activities. Two students who got caught doing unacceptable activities have been penalised,“ it said.