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Helpline hitch: cops clueless

Calcutta, Sept. 7: The police have not yet identified the personnel who refused to help distress callers on Thursday night citing jurisdiction, though a senior officer claimed late tonight the force was probing where exactly the Dial 100 calls landed.

Four youngsters from Calcutta made three calls while being chased by bikers on a highway, once receiving no answer, then being denied help on ground of jurisdiction, and finally being given the number of a police station 25km away.

A senior state official today hinted at some redress, saying: “The police cannot refuse help to a person in distress citing jurisdiction issues. There has to be a system in place. We’ll take it up on Monday.”

This evening, The Telegraph tried to find out what could have happened and who could be to blame.

A reporter dialled 100 from the same spot, about 50km from Calcutta, from where the four disc jockeys had called the police on Thursday night before being assaulted and molested by six bikers.

Today, the cop at the other end said he was speaking from the police lines in Howrah’s Shibpur.

Senior Howrah police officers had yesterday claimed their force had not received any distress call around 10.45pm on Thursday. “These technical glitches happen quite often. Sometimes a call from Kolaghat lands in Asansol. We don’t know where the call went after the youths dialled 100,” Sukhendu Hira, additional superintendent, Howrah (rural), had said.

The same reporter dialled 100 from another location in rural Howrah — Uttar Jagadishpur, a village in the interiors of Uluberia. This time the call landed at the Howrah police commissioner’s office.

Asked if calls from “Howrah rural” can terminate at Asansol, the operator said incredulously: “Since you have called from Howrah, the call will come to Howrah (control rooms). Why should it land in Asansol?”

Police sources said Howrah police have two control rooms where all distress calls land, one at the commissioner’s office in Howrah town and the other at Shibpur.

This newspaper spoke to several officers and tried to chart the route of the deejays’ calls. The first call went unanswered at 10.42pm on Thursday. In a second call, also at 10.42pm, a deejay said they had left the Sher-e-Punjab dhaba 10 minutes earlier and were heading for Calcutta.

Sher-e-Punjab is in East Midnapore. The East Midnapore police’s jurisdiction ends about 200 metres from the dhaba towards Calcutta, midway into the Kolaghat bridge.

Possibility 1: The person at the Howrah control room heard the spot was near the dhaba and concluded it was in East Midnapore police’s area.

“If the caller had specified they had driven 10 minutes from the dhaba, that meant they had gone out of East Midnapore’s jurisdiction, but the helpdesk did not care to listen,” one Howrah officer said.

Even if the Howrah control room had concluded the place was in East Midnapore, the person who took the call should have either directly telephoned or diverted the call to the respective control room or police station instead of asking a group being pursued to make more calls.

Possibility 2: The calls landed somewhere else. “A distress call from a mobile phone sometimes gets routed somewhere far away,” said a telecom engineer.

Once a caller dials 100, the call is routed through the nearest mobile tower to the nearest landline exchange, from where it is forwarded to the eight-digit code of a police control room.

“If either the telecom service provider fails to forward the call to the nearest land phone exchange, or BSNL fails to forward it to the police’s designated number, the outcome is faulty,” the engineer explained.

Inaction

In the recent past, the police — in Calcutta and outside — have refused help to people in distress on multiple occasions, citing various excuses.

A Frenchman whose colleague was being chased and threatened with rape in the lanes of Jodhpur Park was told to go to a police station when he dialled 100. His fault: he couldn’t pinpoint his location.

Neeru Gadia’s SOS had drawn a blank in 2011 when robbers raided her Salt Lake home. The phone kept ringing. The police had blamed technology on both occasions, two years apart.

Insiders in Bengal police’s telecommunications wing said no attempts had ever been made to address the problems in the system. If Delhi has almost doubled the number of ports to which distress calls go, Calcutta has remained where it was five years ago: at 12.

An officer said the first step to solving a problem was accepting that there was a problem.

This newspaper had earlier reported that the police do not have access to the tower location of a person who dials 100 from a cellphone because the telecom operators do not share the information. The problem exists across India, but the responses of two police chiefs tell a story.

A few weeks ago, Delhi police special commissioner T.N. Mohan had told this newspaper his force had taken the matter up with telecom operators, asking them to provide the location of distress callers.

To the same query then, additional commissioner of police (II) Soumen Mitra had declined to acknowledge the problem and claimed the set-up in Calcutta police “sometimes displays a mobile phone caller’s location, sometimes it doesn’t”.

On Saturday, state police chief Naparajit Mukherjee did not answer calls from this newspaper to his mobile. Someone who took the first call said “Sahib is not here” when the reporter identified himself.

M.K. Singh, additional director-general of police (telecommunications), said: “I have never been told about anything relating to Dial 100.”

Another senior officer conceded: “There has never been any exercise to find out how effectively Dial 100 has been working in any district and what the district police’s response time has been.”

Howrah district police chief Bharat Lal Meena said one of the accused had been arrested and raids were being conducted to arrest the rest.

DIAL 100: HOW CALCUTTA COMPARES WITH DELHI

Delhi police, who came under fire after the December 16 gang rape and murder of a paramedic student, say they have taken the following measures on call alerts. Although Calcutta police were not associated with the events that took place in the domain of Howrah police on Thursday night, a comparative look follows since the city police are the premier law-enforcement agency in Bengal

Lines

Delhi: The number of lines for the helpline number 100 have been increased to 100 from 60

Calcutta: 12 lines

Jurisdiction

Delhi: Cases have to be registered irrespective of jurisdiction. “If a complainant approaches a police station or dials 100, we have been instructed jurisdiction should never be an issue,” said S.B.S. Tyagi, deputy commissioner.

(In the December case, police were accused of delaying help because of bickering over jurisdiction.)

Calcutta: No reported case where police have turned down a distress caller citing jurisdiction. However, Calcutta police do not act if the caller cannot specify exact location

Volume

Delhi: On average, the helplines receive 25,000 to 28,000 calls daily. Patrol vans and motorcycle squads go to the spot in 7,000 to 8,000 cases, according to T.N. Mohan, special commissioner

Calcutta: On average, police receive 4,500 calls of which 150-200 calls are tagged as “actionable”

Random checks

Delhi: Senior officers carry out random checks of 120 emergency calls every day.

“All the emergency calls are recorded,” said Mohan

Calcutta: All distress calls can be recorded and the records kept for three months.

An officer of the rank of joint commissioner is expected to assess response. But in practice, calls are never monitored

Response time

Delhi: Five to 10 minutes, say officers. “We take stringent action for delay. Punishment varies from salary cut to disciplinary action,” said Mohan

Calcutta: Information not available

Attend all calls

Delhi: Mohan said no calls go unanswered because under an automatic distribution system, calls hunt down a vacant line. 200 people work in each of three shifts a day

Calcutta: If a call is waiting, the number blinks on the screen so the policeman can call back once the ongoing call is disconnected

Adjoining areas

Delhi: If emergency calls land from adjoining areas, “calls are transferred to the respective police control room”, Mohan said

Calcutta: Calls cannot be transferred. Caller is given landline number of the respective control room

Backup

Delhi: Police telephone lines are managed by MTNL but a standby exchange kicks in during breakdowns

Calcutta: Information not available

Feedback

Delhi: Plans afoot to set up a call centre to get feedback. Patrol vans will be equipped with camera to record behaviour of policemen responding to calls

Calcutta: No such plans known