PCR vans patrol the capital’s roads, responding to 9,000 calls a day. Abhishek Angad travels in four such vans over seven days to understand the challenges of its personnel — dealing with alcoholics, mediating disputes and grappling with shortage of women officers in the force
Coral 8, Mongolpuri Railway Station in outer Delhi, 1 pm
Voice on the wireless: Coral 1 to Coral 8, repeat.
Officer in the PCR van: Coral 8 copy.
Wireless: Husband wife ka jhagda hai. Mongolpuri B Block. Ghar number…
Receiver: Ji janaab, caller ka number?
Constable Sunita (26), deployed in the Coral 8 PCR van, has become attuned to the lives of hundreds of people — mostly residents of JJ colonies in Mongolpuri — she visits during the day. Disgruntled couples, alcoholics, accident victims — Sunita mediates, consoles, scolds or hauls them to the police station, depending on the situation.
She joined the force in 2015 and has been on PCR duty for the last one year. She works a 12-hour shift, five days a week. Her day begins at 5 am — she cleans the house, cooks food for her family and gets ready for work. One among the 350 women personnel deployed in PCR vans across the capital to respond to calls made to 100, Sunita is the first to arrive at the spot.
Around 1 pm on May 1, Coral 8 receives a call about a fight between a couple in Mongolpuri’s B Block. Sunita is the gunman, equipped either with an AK 47 or an MP5 rifle, and sits in the rear seat. Coral 8 is the call sign of the outer district. Each district has its own call sign, says Sunita.
The two others in the van, ASI Rajvir Attri and the driver, constable Sandeep Kundu, sit in front. The van has a wireless set which relays information about calls that come in. Of the 850 PCR vans in the capital, 500 also have ‘phablets’ — a mix between a smartphone and a tablet — on which they get the caller’s details. This van has a phablet too.
The van has an emergency kit of sorts — a stretcher for the injured, a shield, a helmet, teargas shells and searchlights. What it doesn’t have is an AC. Instead, there are two miniature, battery-operated fans. “Garmi toh jhel lete hain, lekin dhul aur mitti se bohot diqqat hoti hai. (We can tolerate the heat, but the dust and dirt and is a problem). By the time we return home, even our spit turns black,” says ASI Attri.
As they approach the spot, the officers realise that taking their vehicle inside the narrow lanes of the unauthorised colonies is a tough ask. “Yaar emergency hai, gaadi hatao jaldi,” he says to a resident. Sirens blaring, the van finally reaches the spot and Attri informs the control room: “Coral 8 to Coral 1, RCD.” This, he explains, means they have reached the location but are yet to find the caller. Five minutes later, they manage to locate the couple.
The house is on the first floor and the caller, Pushpa, a woman in her 30s, alleges her husband has hit her. When police reach, she breaks down, saying her husband doesn’t give her money and that she wants to live separately. When Sunita scolds the husband, he, too, starts crying. “Mein apna dukh nahi chupa sakta ab,” he says, adding that it is his wife who, in fact, beats him.
Sunita then asks their five-year-old daughter about the marital discord — only to realise the husband is telling the truth. The officer tells the woman not to lie and to prepare some food for the children, while the husband is told not to be so tight-fisted. “Pushpa, don’t leave your husband. What will your children do without both of you? We will also inform the beat constable and he will speak to you about the problem,” Sunita says. Before leaving, ASI Attri notes down the names and phone numbers of the couple.
The interaction lasts only 15 minutes, but for the couple, Sunita’s intervention is immeasurable. No case is registered and the investigating officer (IO) at the police station is told that the matter has been “resolved temporarily”.
While there are hundreds of such cases that can be defused if handled carefully, there aren’t enough women personnel to intervene. The Delhi Police PCR receives 9,000 calls from across 13 police districts on a daily basis — many from women. Yet, the first responders in a majority of cases are male officers.
There are about 5,850 officers posted in the 850 PCR vans that traverse the length and breadth of the capital, but only 350 are women. DCP (PCR) Monika Bharadwaj says the department has sent requests to the Commissioner of Police for more women personnel in the PCR unit. “Whenever a crime against women or children takes place in any district, the investigating officers are women. Similarly, the first responders should also be women in all such cases. I have sent a requisition to the police chief,” the DCP adds.
Coral 69, Nihal Vihar in outer Delhi, 10.05 pm
Inside the PCR van, ASI Dayanand yells into his phone, asking the caller to tell him his exact location. He has received a call about “eve-teasing”. The PCR’s ‘base’ is outside an ex-MLA’s office, but the road is bad. It is 10.06 pm and the van rushes towards the area where the call came from. ASI Dayanand dials again, but the caller is unable to provide an exact location. The vehicle keeps moving, navigating potholes, narrow roads and speed breakers. “The car will break one day,” says the constable driving the vehicle.
“Arre bhai aap ho kahan,” says the ASI.
“PUV block in Nihal Vihar,” says the caller.
“Arre kahan padhta hai ye?” the ASI asks.
“Opposite the farmhouse,” says the caller.
Ten minutes are wasted as the ASI randomly stops people on the road, asking if they had called police. Eventually, the man, Devender, is found, and he and the ASI walk towards his house. “Sir, aapko sahi tareeke se apna address bolna chahiye tha (Sir, you need to give us proper directions),” says the ASI.
The PCR call, the ASI discovers, has to do with a few boys from the locality who “sit and click pictures of girls and pass lewd comments”. This irked some residents, but no one is ready to file a complaint. The IO reaches the spot and asks if anyone wants to file a complaint, but in vain. ASI Dayanand says, “Our beat constable will come in plainclothes for some days to tackle the situation. Our duty is over; the IO will take care of the rest.”
Herein lies another problem, explains the ASI. Often they waste precious minutes to get to a spot, but when they reach, no one is willing to file a complaint. “At other times, we face public anger because they demand immediate action,” he says.
The gunman in the PCR is Somveer Singh, an ex-serviceman who has served in J&K. He says he returned to Delhi as his parents wanted him to come back. He admits that having a woman personnel in the PCR makes a difference, but adds that the public, too, needs to “come forward”.
“The public wants us to act, but they don’t even consider us as policemen. They mock us saying 100 number ki gaadi aa gayi.” He says a large number of calls are about alcoholics, and that “locating a drunk is a nightmare”.
The unit comprises ASI-rank personnel and those below. While they don’t make arrests, PCR personnel are authorised to break up fights, take the injured to a hospital and apprehend a suspect till the IO of the police station concerned arrives at the spot.
Baker 44, Durgapuri Chowk in northeast Delhi, 11 pm
It’s 11.10 pm and the PCR is at its base outside Nagar Nigam Pratibha Vidyalaya in Durgapuri Chowk. A call comes in: “Ladki ke saath ched chaad.” Head constable Sangeeta, a mother of two, ASI Ram Niwas and constable Vinod Kumar, who is driving the vehicle, head to the location near Safeda Mandir. Despite making two calls, the caller’s location is yet to be ascertained. “Responding at night is very different from during the day. There is no one around to ask for directions,” says ASI Niwas, who travels two hours from Hapur every day.
At the location, a 24-year-old man says he and his family are being threatened. He alleges his one-year-old daughter was “possibly sexually assaulted” during the day, following which police took her to a hospital. Now, he says, the family of the accused is threatening them. Sangeeta takes the mother aside and asks what happened. She replies, “A man we know promised to buy my daughter toffee, but he took her to his room. When they did not return after a while, I went to his home and heard my daughter crying… I barged in and found he was drunk and in the middle of changing his clothes. He shoved me aside and fled,” the mother tells Sangeeta.
Jotting down the details, ASI Niwas raises his voice: “Why do you have to give your child to anyone?” Just then, the IO of Jyoti Nagar police station, ASI Sikshit Kumar, arrives and asks sternly: “Ab kya ho gaya?” It’s only after Sangeeta whispers something into his ear that he speaks in a calmer tone. “Case register ho gaya,” he says. ASI Kumar then goes to the house of the accused and asks about his whereabouts. Nobody seems to know where he went. When The Indian Express later asked DCP (northeast) A K Singla about the case, he said the medical reports were inconclusive and no case was registered.
A few minutes later, the PCR leaves for its base. As the miniature fan buzzes, and sirens are occasionally turned on, Sangeeta pours some water for herself from a 20-litre jug in the van. The jug is nearly empty and ASI Niwas says there is no facility to refill water at night. “All water outlets are closed. Let us see if we can go to the nearest police station,” he says.
At the base, toilets are another problem. The one beside Durgapuri police booth is used by both men and women personnel. It stinks, the seats are unclean, and the door is cracked in a corner. Meanwhile, another PCR van passes by. This one is supposed to keep an eye on the others — from the number of calls received to if the staff are present everywhere. They check the log book of Baker 44 to see how many calls they have received.
Just then, a voice on the wireless asks: Baker 1 to Baker 8, halat batayein.
Receiver Ram Niwas: Baker 8. Ladki ke saath ched chaad. Ghatna din mein hui thi. Abhi wali call mein uski maa ko dhamki mili thi. Thane se IO aa gaye the.
Wireless: Theek hai.
The voice tapers off, and the trio in the PCR van await their next call of duty.