New Delhi, March 9: When Central Industrial Security Force constable Roshni Halkar was posted to the Indira Gandhi International Airport here on security duties, she didn’t imagine she would one day have to babysit a lost infant.
But Halkar had to cuddle a two-month-old girl left behind at a cafeteria in the airport lounge by absent-minded parents who had stopped for coffee after flying in from Mumbai and walked away without their daughter.
The cafeteria’s staff alerted the CISF when the unattended infant began wailing. But the couple realised the baby was missing only when they reached their home in Ghaziabad, two hours away.
They frantically rushed back to the airport where they found the girl — now pacified — in Halkar’s arms.
The forgetfulness of fliers touching airports across the country has reached new heights, with the left-behind baby perhaps the most bizarre example.
“Passengers lose luggage worth crores in airports across the country every year and the trend is growing. It was about Rs 23 crore last year,” CISF director-general Arvind Ranjan told The Telegraph.
“But no one recalls (any other instance of) seeing a baby left behind.”
Constables and officers with the CISF, which handles security across India’s 59 civilian airports, routinely pick up mobile phones, laptops, jewellery, wallets, handbags and even wads of cash. The value of luggage lost in the past three years is estimated at Rs 60 crore.
“Sometimes, the passengers don’t even realise they’ve lost something,” said Sudeep Sinha, CISF deputy inspector-general at the IGI airport.
A Dubai-based Indian businessman threw a cloth bag containing Rs 15 lakh in Saudi riyals into a dustbin while trying to shed excess baggage. He realised his mistake only after he reached his plane.
By the time he had rushed back to the dustbin, housekeeping staff had disposed its contents into a larger trash bin. CISF officers helped him retrieve the money after sifting through used paper cups, water bottles, food waste and diapers.
“The funny thing is that many passengers never contact the airport or the CISF to claim their lost luggage,” Ranjan said.
Last year, for instance, the rightful owners reclaimed luggage worth only about Rs 7 crore — just about 30 per cent of the estimated worth of the total luggage lost that year.
The figures for 2012 and 2011 are Rs 3 crore reclaimed out of Rs 19 crore and less than Rs 3 crore out of Rs 18 crore, respectively.
Unclaimed baggage is handed over to the airport authorities, who are free to auction it after a year.
Clinical psychologists believe that an information overload and the increasing demand for multi-tasking may be contributing to forgetfulness.
“When there’s a huge inflow of information — all of it seemingly important — some people fail to prioritise,” said N. Jamuna, associate professor of clinical psychology at the National Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences, New Delhi.
“The value of lost luggage is increasing year after year,” said Sinha, who is in charge of security at the IGI airport.
“Perhaps it’s because passengers are busy multi-tasking or because they’re worried about flights or hassled by security checks.”
Sinha said he saw people in a hurry every day. “They work on laptops and speak on mobile phones even while in transit. Perhaps there is a lack of focus that makes them forget things.”
Three years ago, the CISF launched a lost-and-found facility on its official website where it uploads details of the contact persons a passenger can approach to claim lost belongings.
In December last year, Bijender Mittal, an Indian businessman on his way to New York, forgot an envelope containing $5,000 on a security tray next to an X-ray machine at Delhi airport.
The CISF surveillance team noticed the envelope and put it through the X-ray machine and discovered it contained money.
“Mittal was sitting in the transit lounge,” a senior CISF official said. “We zeroed in on him after scanning CCTV camera recordings. He had a big surprise — he did not have the faintest idea that he had lost this whopping amount.”
A 45-year-old woman who arrived from Britain left a piece of her hand baggage at Mumbai airport last year. CISF personnel examined the unattended bag and were surprised to find Rs 4 lakh in cash and some jewellery along with her passport and visiting cards.
“We called her up on the phone number mentioned in the visiting card and she was surprised. She said she had not complained thinking she would never get it back,” the official said.