With 150 hoax calls daily, BMC operators have work cut out

MumbaiThe cell receives over 600 calls daily. EXpress

"Namaskar, BMC disaster control room," greets a voice from a 250-sq ft hall on the ground floor of the civic body's annexe building, opposite CST, when citizens dial 108 or 1916. For the 36 operators who answer citizens' calls 24x7 across three eight-hour shifts, the standard protocol always does not come in handy, given the number of hoax calls they receive.

There could be around 200 hoax calls daily, says Rashmi Lokhande, co-in-charge of disaster control room. The 12 operators in each shift handle 20 lines.

There are three eight-hour shifts in a day. At times, an operator is simultaneously responding to two calls with a receiver on both ears. At times, the operator also attends two calls in quick succession.

Mahesh Narvekar, chief of BMC's disaster management cell, says 30-40 per cent of the calls they get daily are hoax. The cell receives over 600 calls daily, of which 150-180 are hoax.

From irrelevant network complaints to enquiries about road traffic and from domestic violence reports to first-aid assistance, the operators have to politely answer them all. When asked how they react, Narvekar said, "What can we do? We cannot penalise them. We also get many irrelevant calls but we train our personnel to keep calm."

Vijay Jagtap, assistant shift in-charge, said, "A girl keeps calling the helpline and talks gibberish. Now, we are used to her. Whenever she calls, we just laugh and cut the call."

He said a majority of the hoax calls are made by children. "When a child calls repeatedly, we call back on the number and inform parents to keep an eye on the child," said Jagtap.

Lokhande said the operators were used to such calls. "Even if we get hoax calls frequently, we attend each call seriously. We cannot afford to ignore any call. What if the next call is genuine? Last month, we received a call from a 10-year-old boy who claimed to have planted a bomb in the BMC. Though we suspected it was a hoax call, we still alerted the police, who sent an ATS squad for inspection" she said.

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