Will you be safe when you go shopping this weekend? (First of a series on how safe is the Indian capital)

December 6th, 2008 - 2:25 pm ICT by IANS  

New Delhi, Dec 6 (IANS) It was six in the evening and Connaught Place, the central business hub of the capital, was teeming with people. Like many others, we made our way to the main entrance of the well known underground market, Palika Bazar, and stopped for a minute. Perhaps, the feeling of fear that we felt was irrational, or maybe it was very, very real.There at Gate No. 1 stood an unarmed guard very disinterestedly running his hands over a man who was wearing a thick jacket, before making way for him to enter the market.

Behind him was a woman carrying a large purse. With no woman security guard around, she was let in without having to go through even that namesake check. Both went through a Door Frame Metal Detector (DFMD), which did not beep.

Slowly, we made our way down the spiral staircases, with pan stained walls on either side, to the air conditioned market haunted by those looking for electronics goods and clothes.

As expected, the market was bustling with people. Shoppers carrying a number of bags were a common feature, but when asked, the shopkeepers didn’t have much idea whether the closed-circuit TV cameras (CCTV) were working.

Vinay Kumar, general secretary of the market association, said: “We had asked the New Delhi Municipal Corporation (NDMC) for more security guards and CCTV cameras, but all that we have been given are assurances.”

Connaught Place itself was no different. With the exception of a stationary Police Control Room (PCR) van, there was hardly any other consolation to reassure the common man of his security.

Connaught Place was one of the three markets in Delhi that were ripped by serial bomb blasts Sep 13, which left 24 dead and more than a 100 injured.

At Sarojini Nagar market in south Delhi, the condition was not very different. The bust marketplace had witnessed a bomb blast in October 2005 that left 62 people dead just days before Diwali.

The market has too many unguarded entry points and the major entry points have disfunctional metal detectors. Only the main entry point on the side of Babu Market has a semblance of security.

The Mini Market trader’s association had requested authorities time and again to cordon off some of the entry points but few steps have been taken.

What’s more, the control room for round-the-clock monitoring of the market through closed circuit television (CCTV) cameras is not even situated in the market, but at a booth near the Sarojini Nagar police station - 750 meters away from the main market area.

The only vigilance, in addition to the irregular checks by about 10 police officials, comes from the 30 odd rag pickers and numerous roadside dwellers who have taken up the responsibility to report any suspicious activity.

The Greater Kailash-II M-block market, which faced two bomb blasts Sep 13, seemed to be in a better state.

A hot spot for the urban youth and higher middle class, who flock this hip market for latest designs in clothes and accessories, the M-block market has six CCTV cameras that are linked to live monitors at a police booth situated in the middle of the central park, bordering which there are over hundred big and small commercial establishments.

At all times, one police official mans the control room and monitors the video streams that can be recorded for 24 hours.

At the high-end boutiques and jewellery shops here, as in Connaught Place, shop owners have opted for private security guards to keep vigil and stay in touch with the police.

With last week’s terror assault in Mumbai that claimed at least 172 lives still fresh in people’s minds, it’s time to ask ourselves - how safe are we in our own cities?

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