“Namaskar. Disaster Control Room,” says a soft, clear voice. Inside the BMC Disaster Control Room’s (DCR) Engineering Section is a small table; the only occupants being a register, a few sheets of paper and two telephones. Seated there is the man in charge of answering the two phones. It may appear to be an easy task, but is a tedious one.
This desk is where the operator spends most of his day. He is responsible for answering calls made to the numbers 1292/93, helplines introduced by the BMC in 2014, to curb putting up of illegal hoardings.
In his shift from 8 am to 4 pm, he answers more than 20 calls a day. “I carefully take down details like the street name, landmarks, ward number, description of the hoarding on a sheet of paper,” says the operator, who did not wish to disclose his identity, a day after the BMC informed the Bombay High Court that it had fully complied with the court’s earlier orders of removing illegal hoardings to ensure not a single illegal hoarding exists by January 26.
He is interrupted by a call. There is a complaint against a banner by a political party in Chembur.
The operator transfers the contents into his register and is already answering the next call. The complaint this time is about a hoarding in Kurla. “The complaints are passed on to the DCR,” he says, entering the DCR, a busy room. “The Control Room Operator feeds the specifics into the computer. The complaint reaches the respective ward office, after an SAP/complaint number is generated,” says the operator, working in tandem with CRO.
Most hoardings are taken down in a day or two, since vehicles from the ward offices go around to remove the banners regularly, adds the operator, who is with the BMC for 28 years.
Nearly 35 people from the Licensing Department are kept on rotation to answer the helpline numbers, for 15 days each. “After my shift ends here, I will be back to my usual work at the Borivali Ward office,” he says, while answering the phone yet again. This time it is a caller from Dadar, who gets agitated when the operator asks him for the pin code. “I have to be very patient. I once got a call from a man, who kept saying I was sitting here, doing nothing,” the operator says, adding that people expect hoardings to be taken down as soon as they make the call.
Confined to his desk for most of the day, there is one thing the Borivali resident looks forward to. “Sometimes, when people speak politely, it makes me happy,” adds the operator, as he takes a break for lunch.