When the CM dialled PCR : The Tribune India

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When the CM dialled PCR

When the CM dialled PCR

Photo for representation. File photo

Satish K Sharma

Surat has a long history of cosmopolitanism. Legend has it that the flags of 85 countries used to flutter in the winds of its harbour when Mumbai was still a fishermen’s hamlet. Leo Tolstoy paid a tribute to Surat’s eclecticism when he chose it as the setting for his short story, The Coffee-House of Surat, in which the followers of diverse faiths argue about the right path to salvation.

It came, therefore, as a rude shock to all when in December 1992, following the Babri Masjid demolition, communal riots erupted in the city. In two days, over 100 people were killed and property worth crores of rupees was destroyed.

I, then commanding a battalion of the state reserve police force, was deputed to assist the Surat police in restoring peace. We gradually controlled the violence but rumours flew thick and fast. So, the public was afraid to venture out even when the curfew was relaxed.

One afternoon, the Police Commissioner called me and said people had complained to him about Police Control Room (PCR) telephones remaining constantly engaged. ‘If the public cannot contact the police for help or to verify a rumour, how would their confidence be restored?’ he wondered, tasking me to sort things out.

I found that the PCR staff was struggling to deal with the numerous calls as there weren’t enough lines to handle the sudden rise in the phone traffic. We got a few extra phone lines installed on an urgent basis and the situation eased.

Soon thereafter, the then Gujarat CM Chimanbhai Patel visited the city to assess the situation. He had a reputation for not suffering fools gladly. Any ineptness was sure to invite an instant dressing-down. So, we were apprehensive throughout the visit.

Fortunately, things went off smoothly until the press conference. A reporter complained about PCR phones remaining busy. The CM looked at the Police Commissioner, who said additional phones had been installed and things had improved. However, the journalist insisted that the problem was still there.

Hearing this, the CM’s face stiffened and he picked up the phone kept near him and dialled 100. Luckily, the call was through. ‘I am the chief minister speaking. I was just testing you. Well done!’ he said in Gujarati and put down the receiver. Then, turning to the journalists, he said, ‘You should appreciate that my officers are working hard!’

Coming from a hard taskmaster, it was a rare compliment. After he left, I lauded the PCR staff and asked the old head constable who had taken the call: ‘Were you not nervous on hearing the CM on the other side?’

‘No, sir! We are used to it. Late in the night, many drunk callers introduce themselves as the CM,’ he said wryly.

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