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AIR robbed of its voice

Siliguri, Nov. 26: All India Radio programmes went off the air this morning after transmission equipment worth about Rs 1 crore were stolen late last night from the antenna-monitoring unit room of the “heavily guarded” Akashvani station here.

The burglary has taken authorities by surprise as the Sevoke Road building is a high security zone with an armed police squad on guard round-the-clock.

“We spend around Rs 13 lakh annually on security, which includes housing, water and electricity for the squad. Besides, entry to the building, which houses technical equipment and other sophisticated gizmos, is restricted. The theft has taken us by surprise,” said AIR Siliguri station director Sripada Das.

Transmission was badly hit with only a few programmes broadcast from the 200 KW-capacity station since morning, senior Akashvani officials said.

Sources said no one spotted any irregularity till 11.12 last night, when transmission was switched off for the day. It was only at five in the morning, ahead of the morning transmissions, that somebody from the station’s engineering section spotted “abnormalities”.

“We switched on the main transmitter and found the equipment behaving rather strangely. We traced certain signals to the copper-shielded antenna monitoring unit room. When we reached the room, it was almost empty,” said an engineer with the transmission station.

An “insider angle” to the theft is not being ruled out.

Another worry is the near halt in transmission. No one is quite sure when the programmes would again go on air.

Material stolen comprise sophisticated condensers and tuning coils used in the antenna monitoring unit. The unit acts as a link between the transmitter and the radiating masts outside.

“Since it was basically networking equipment that was stolen, there is virtually no link now between the transmitter and the radiating masts that emit the signals. Transmission cannot be fully restored unless the link equipment are put in place,” said a senior station engineer.

“The theft has been communicated to the AIR bosses, including the chief engineer at Calcutta. A team of senior AIR/Doordarshan officials is expected to arrive here tomorrow to look into the case,” Das said.

Sniffer dogs have been pressed into service by the police to trace the routes used by the raiders to enter the station.

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