Chief minister Mamata Banerjee’s warning about the security threat posed by the faceless sizeable population of paying guests in the township at the inauguration of the sub-divisional office in DJ Block last April has spurred the police into action. Information is being sought through door-to-door distribution of forms about paying guests as well as tenants and domestic helps. But the process is not proving to be totally smooth.
“Some of the residents are not ready to part with information regarding their domestic helps or even about themselves. It is really hard since they become irritated very quickly. Some challenge us, asking for our identity cards. If they are satisfied only then do they agree to answer any question,” said Dhananjoy Das, a green police volunteer doing the survey in Sector II.
Others are reluctant to provide information about their domestic help for fear of scaring them away. “The other day I visited a lady who gave out all the requisite information about her husband but refused to utter a single word about her maid,” said Suklal Karmakar, who is operating in the Bidhannagar south police station area.
A total of 40 personnel, from both green police and the uniformed police, have been deployed for the job which started in end-April. The township has been divided into areas under four police stations. “Around 12,000 houses under the four police stations have already been surveyed. It would take us another six months to complete the task. We would gradually introduce the survey in other police station areas under our jurisdiction once we are through with Salt Lake,” said Subrata Bandopadhyay, DC (headquarters), Bidhannagar Commissionerate.
The police had foreseen resistance from a section of the residents. Which is why before the survey started, block associations under each police station were requested to help out. “We held meetings with the block residents’ association office-bearers urging them to spread the word about our survey so that residents would not be taken by surprise when our men visit them. It would be easier for us to work that way,” said an official of the Bidhannagar south police station. Some block associations did take up the initiative to inform their members about the survey but most did not.
Even if residents are willing to help, many say they are finding it difficult to extract information from their domestic helps. “The maids working for some of my friends are dilly dallying about handing over their identity proof,” says Mita Sengupta of BL Block. “A few maids have outright refused to furnish details, even threatening to quit if they are nagged further. Why would someone be so stubborn unless one has wrong intentions?”
Other than the one on domestic helps, a second form is being handed over in case of houses with tenants or paying guests. Both have to be filled in and submitted to the nearest police station. “So far, we have received around 5,000 forms on domestic helps from the four police stations. The verification process would start once all the forms are in,” said Debasish Ganguly, inspector, headquarter, and the nodal officer in charge of the programme.
It would have taken quite some time for the survey to be over even if everyone co-operated. This is because those selected for the survey have other duties too. “We have not recruited people from outside nor have we outsourced the task. Our surveyors are going out for one or two hours every day,” said Ganguly.
Residents are not being given a deadline by which to submit the completed form but they are being urged to do so as early as possible. “In many cases, residents are submitting them within a few days of receiving the forms while others are taking as long as 10-15 days,” said Ganguly. Many residents, he said, were approaching the local police stations in case of confusion. But there is also the headache of incomplete forms. “Those who are not filling in all the blanks have to be approached again,” admitted Ganguly. He has not figured out how to deal with houses where residents are not bothering to submit the forms at all. That is why perhaps some police stations are sending personnel over to pick up the forms later.
The police have always wanted residents to register the antecedents of their maids so they could be traced if they went missing after any crime. Long before the Bidhannagar Commissionerate was formed, officers had held meetings with the block committees where residents had been advised to submit such details at the local thana.
The last such initiative was taken in 2007. At a meeting held at the Poura Bhavan auditorium, forms were handed over to the block committee representatives to be filled in with information about maids, drivers and gardeners. But the initiative failed due to lack of response from residents.
This time, with the police coming to every door, residents have mixed feelings about the exercise. “It took me several days of persuasion to extract a passport-size photograph and an identity proof from my maid but this much effort should be put in when our own security is at stake,” said Deepa Ghosh, a resident of DB Block.
Ramesh Jha, an elderly resident of AL Block, however is sceptical about the success of this initiative. “They had undertaken such drives earlier as well but nothing came of it,” he said, dismissively.
Furnishing a photograph is proving to be a stumbling block in case of domestic helps as much as getting them to divulge their permanent address, which often is far away in the districts. Says Siddhweshari Aditya, who works in two CK Block houses: “My voter identity card is in my village in Birbhum but I have submitted my photograph.” She is lucky as one of her “boudis” volunteered to foot the bill for getting it clicked. As her reference, Aditya has supplied names of employers she has worked for. She says she cannot recall her permanent address.
| The Bidhannagar Commissionerate office. A Telegraph file picture
Tenants and paying guests are being more co-operative. “Since my tenants are educated and aware of the crime situation, they have submitted all details,” says Sengupta of BL Block about the family that resides on her ground floor.
The president of CD Block Citizens’ Council Manju Banerjee, feels it is high time that the police took note of paying guests. “Earlier this month we heard from neighbours that a lot of men frequent a particular house in our block,” says Banerjee. “When they complained to the police, the cops found 40 men living in the two-storeyed house as PG!”
Eye on hotels
Guest houses, hotels, restaurants and bars too are being targeted by the police. “We are holding meetings with the owners. We have made it mandatory to install close-circuit TV camera at the entry and exit points of hotels, guesthouses and bars. In case of bars, CCTV must be also installed where drinks are being served and in the live performance areas. The footage must be preserved for a month. All guests at hotels and guest houses must fill up the requisite forms furnishing their particulars. A web camera has to be placed at the front desk so that visitors can be photographed,” said Bandopadhyay.
Apart from possessing trade licence from the municipality, a no-objection certificate is necessary from the police if one has to run a guesthouse or a hotel. “So long, one had to go all the way to the district magistrate’s office in Barasat to get it. But now the Bidhannagar Commissionerate is empowered to issue the no-objection certificate,” said Ganguly.