Wednesday, February 12, 2014

The Bombay police: A failure story

A few days ago, I woke up at 4 AM under an onslaught of the shouting of large beefy men instructing a crew, using megaphones, in a movie shoot in Film City. I thought to myself "this must violate some law".

For a while, I tried to be a free rider, thinking "Someone else will complain". But it was 4 AM and clearly nobody had complained. So I thought I should call the police and complain.

  1. I used my (Airtel) cell phone and dialled "100". The cell phone said this was an imaginary number. I rotated the phone by 90 degrees but this also did not work.
  2. I tried to dial "022-100" but this gave the same error.
  3. Some websites said that 112 is an omnibus emergency number. I tried 112 and 022-112. Neither worked.
  4. I broke into cold sweat thinking that in Bombay, I actually have no means to call the police in an emergency using my cell phone.
  5. I hunted for other ways to reach the police. There is no rapid access mechanism using new technology: You cannot send in a complaint by email or IM. You can chat with an Amazon customer support person by IM or on email, but you can't do this with the Bombay police.
  6. I started hunting for a phone number for the police on the web. There were large numbers of websites. It was not clear which to use.
  7. If you google for "Mumbai police" and click on the first link -- -- it takes you to a fashion store.
  8. I hunted more on the web and got hold of a few numbers and started trying. The first two shooed me away.
  9. The third one was willing to listen to me, but not in English. The only languages that he would speak were Hindi and Marathi. I happen to know some Hindi and some Marathi, but a large number of migrants to Bombay speak neither. It is not good to have government interface that does not grok the lingua franca of India.
  10. He heard me and said "okay". He did not say "This is illegal and we will shut it down". 
  11. He did not give me a ticket number. He made no attempt to take my phone number or email address. Nobody contacted me in the end to tell me what was the disposition of my complaint. I had no idea what happened. The noise blared on.
And I understood why free riding did not work. Nobody had complained because there is no mechanism through which anyone can complain.

There is no public good as fundamental as the criminal justice system, and we in India are simply not trying hard enough.


  1. Next time you want to write a blog about some complaint on the police:
    1. Write about something that doesn't make you come off as a snob.
    It's a damn film city, making movie is their job. If somebody actually listened to you, you'll get bolder and complain that Planes shouldn't take off from airports before 6 AM.

    2. I wonder how many casual labourers know english enough to speak it.
    Certainly you can't expect people to sympathise with an Indian who knows english and not hindi. And it's marathi land, why they even learn a different language.
    (refer to point number 1).

    Disclaimer: Hindi isn't my mothertongue, neither is marathi.

    1. On 1. : The fact that movie-making is their job does not justify externalities. Example: A factory is doing its job when it pollutes.

      On 2: Many migrants are not casual labourers. For the future of Bombay, the migrants who matter all speak English.

      Regardless of the issues, a greater level of politeness would be appreciated.

  2. In complete contrast, my experience with Delhi Police was very encouraging. A couple of months ago, an accident had taken place in the morning at the crossroad outside the office gate from which I enter. I arrived a few minutes after the accident. A person, clearly injured and possibly unconscious, was lying in the middle of the road. A crowd had gathered. I enquired if someone had called the police. Negative. So I did. I dialled 100 from my (Vodafone) cell number. And explained the location of the accident as well as what I had seen. Within minutes, they were here, and the injured were taken to the hospital down the road. Throughout the day, I received multiple follow-up calls from the police control room, as well as beat officers/constables, enquiring if the complaint I had made had been addressed. Of course, I had to keep explaining that I was not a party to the accident, nor a witness, but merely a complainant after the event had occurred, it was satisfying to know that they were serious about the job.

  3. Tweeted this, and it went to my Facebook. Here is a transcript:-

    Tushar Sawant: This is complete bull shit....Soma I did not expect this to be floated on your FB page. the number 100 exists and is operative and is answered....albiet with a little delay. The Mumbai Police does attend to such calls made by citizens after the 10 pm dead line for noise pollution. and lastly the first page that is googled for mumbai police is not, but it does provide all required numbers. If one googles it does give a link to a fashion portal. but a normal person would google mumbai police and not even with the second link is the correct one....any sane person would select that instead of the first which clearly highlights its a fashion portal. Request you to have this link off your page....this is misleading and derogatory. I appreciate that they may not be the best but Mumbai Police is doing a great job to the ever expanding city and it citizens....albeit within its limitations and constraints, which are beyond their control. managing the law and order in a mga city like mumbai is credible.

    Somasekhar Sundaresan: Interesting. post this on the blog post too. The author in question is a senior economist and I have no reason to believe he would fabricate his facts. He has senior friends in the Mumbai Police too.

    Somasekhar Sundaresan: And, deleting posts is weird! Discussion and debate includes pointing out mistakes. Deleting things one disagrees with is censorship.

    1. Dear Mr. Sawant,

      At the time that I did this, the "I'm feeling lucky" for "mumbai police" took me to the bridal fashion website.

      You are assuming that I am stupid. I would appreciate a little more decency in the discourse. If you go look on google, you will see many people talking about this. Even today, the website leads to a bridal fashion website.

      "Request you to have this link off your page" : Excuse me.

  4. A further comment on that FB post from me:

    Somasekhar Sundaresan: And how would you know the quality of the call? Is it a problem to say there is no complaint registration number to a complainant? Is it a problem to say there are limitations and constraints that are having an impact? If one does not say it, would there be any pressure to address the constraints and limitations? I see no cause to delete this post.

  5. I think there is an important message from all this: There is no consistency in the citizen experience of the Police when they call for assistance. The greater the variability, lesser the trust and hence going to the Police tend to become last resort. Certainty of assistance is corner stone to the public good called security. No point arguing that each of us had a different experience. There is a point in arguing that there is nothing to make everybody feel equally safe.

  6. My experiences with calling 100 re the Delhi Police have been similar to that of Sumathi's - quick response, efficient follow up and a post-resolution satisfaction survey to gauge the effectiveness of the police response. That being said, Vimal's comment makes eminent sense - there evidently is no common structure/protocols for first responders in India or if there is one, it is certainly not being followed. Part of the problem may be related to the performance of the human resources in the police dept. and that's a hard problem to fix in terms of effort and time involved. But I suspect a significant proportion of the problem may be attributable to a lack of infrastructure. Robust dispatch and C2 systems would atleast take out the issue of reaching the police in the event of an emergency and them being able to respond (the quality of which as I mentioned is a different set of complex problems that is fundamentally related to larger police reforms). But until these comprehensive police reforms happen, an incremental improvement in police infrastructure would relatively easily and quickly fix a part of our policing woes.

  7. I had once called 112 in Haryana while being on NH-1 near Kurukshetra District... PCR van reached there within 5 minutes and they took the action...

    Really not sure what no. should i dial in Mumbai from Mobile...

  8. Just wanted to point out, that the reaction of the public seems to be to blame the police or to ask the police to fix the problems. But, the public needs to delve deeper and recognize that many of the issues are due to the poor infrastructure, man power, lack of funds, lack of independent authority as well a lack of understanding of the complexity of a situation. All of these are political issues and must be addressed to our netas. That they make it a priority not just to fix an instance of a problem, but a systematic fix to the funding, structural and infrastructure problems that affect the police. I don't think the public understands this basic point. We just don't seem to ask for it. We seem to ask for knee jerk solutions, and we get exactly that which helps no one.

    1. Every citizen of India must hold politicians and bureaucrats accountable and demand public goods that work. The police must work. It is not the job of the citizen to figure out how to make things work. Outrage is very important.

      Outrage is not enough. See:

  9. Two instances come to my memory First when I lived on the same road as IGDR In 2006 when the tower construction going on and there was a digging of a hill going on over night I complained to the Police to come and stop it Lo and wonder every time the police came and asked them to stop ! (There was a free rider problem as every one thought someone will complain At last I made the builder given an undertakling not to take up noisy work after 7 pm- that worked)
    second incidence when I lived in Andheri (E) and how the police retrieved my empty lunch bag from a st class compartment when I had found out that I had lost it when getting off at Andheri (E) from a local train between Churchgate and Borivali
    Since some police constables were sitting on platform no 1 (where I got off) of Andheri East station I complained They phoned the police at Goregao (E) - next stop and asked them to go to the 1st class compartment Police No sooner the police in Goregaon contacted the police in Andheri (E) that they has retrieved the handbag , I was advised to take a next slow train to G(E) and collect the bag I was overjoyed Only it was a lunch bag
    So police does work and many a times their work goes unappreciated

  10. Here is another example of very good technology used badly by the Delhi police it made it to the bbc front page for India:


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