Foreign tourists who visit the capital have one common complaint – of touts who approach them posing as drivers or travel agents, take them around the city, and finally end up fleecing them. Outside the bustling Terminal 3 of Indira Gandhi International Airport, where most international flights land in the capital, touts are a common sight.
Last Saturday, the terminal was teeming with people, policemen armed with walkie-talkies, friends, relatives and vehicles. A couple from the US, among many other passengers, walked out onto the arrival forecourt. The couple was about to approach a Delhi Police prepaid cab parked in the first lane when they were approached by a man. After a brief exchange, they followed the man to a private cab parked in the third lane. All this unfolded barely 10 steps from the police post and the Delhi Police Prepaid Taxi kiosk.
A CISF intelligence officer said, “Touting is an open secret at the airport. Everyone knows about it and can see it happening, but no one does anything. The touts operating here are mostly locals from neighbouring villages such as Mahipalpur and Mehram Nagar. They prey on tourists who visit Delhi for the first time. They offer them cab services and help them with their luggage. Once the tourist agrees to ride with them, they fleece them.”
Officials said while cab services such as Easy, Mega and Meru, and Delhi Police prepaid taxis are allowed to park at the airport, the cars used by touts are disguised as private vehicles scheduled to pick up clients or relatives.
To deter this practice, the Delhi International Airport Limited (DIAL) imposed a Rs 150 entry fee in October last year. “DIAL has proposed to regulate and de-congest the forecourt area to prevent unauthorised parking for long periods as it inconveniences passengers… This will also prevent touts from hanging around and will improve passenger safety,” said an official.
However, the fee does not apply to private cars. As a result, vigilance authorities said touts park their vehicles at the terminal for hours till they find a passenger.
According to the Delhi Prevention of Touting and Malpractices against Tourists Act, 2010, a tout is one “(who) loiters around airports, railway stations, bus stands, markets or any other places frequented by tourists with the intention of offering any unsolicited service to the tourist or pestering or coercing him…” The Act lets police make arrests or detain suspected touts.
In November last year, a Delhi court convicted a tout, identified as Jitender. It had noted, “The absence of adequate police officers outside the arrival hall encourages touts to carry out their unlawful activities. This shows a lack of effective policing.”
In April last year, a Canadian couple wrote a scathing letter to IGI Airport, the Home Ministry and their High Commission in India about how touts harassed them and ruined their holiday.
According to authorities, 89 cases of touting were reported last year and 40 cases reported till June this year. DCP (Airports) Dinesh Kumar said, “Cameras have been installed at the airport and policemen in plainclothes keep an eye on touts. We have also issued advisories to Delhi Police black and yellow cabs to make tourists aware of the menace.”