On International Women’s Day on March 8, the city police will launch a 24-hour toll-free helpline to rapidly respond to crime against women in public places.

It is part of a larger police scheme to make the city safe for women at all hours. A highly mobile force of plainclothes officers will support the helpline.

Officials say they have identified scores of areas (including bus stands, railway stations, taxi stands, roads leading to women’s hostels, markets, shopping districts, and weekend tourist destinations) where women feel most threatened. Such localities will be better lit at night, aggressively patrolled, and brought under the surveillance of security cameras. The police have also roped in the services of hostel managements to provide safe housing, temporarily, to women in distress.

Lawyers, psychologists, doctors, municipal authorities, and women’s organisations will assist law enforcers, at different levels, to pre-empt crimes against women and provide support to victims of gender-violence.

The 2011-Census figures says the capital district has a higher population of women (1,723,084) compared to men (1,584,200). At an interaction last month, several women told City Police Commissioner P. Vijayan that they had faced “low and medium level” threats from drunks, chain snatchers, ticketless travellers, vendors of pornographic books and DVDs, nuisance makers, and hardened criminals. Many felt most vulnerable while travelling on late night trains and buses, which ran almost empty.

Sometimes, they were forced to travel alone in autorickshaws driven by “socially maladjusted” persons.

The police would open help desks for women at public facilities and designate autorickshaws operated by “gender sensitised” persons with a clean police record as “women friendly” cabs. Such autos will sport a mildly different colour. There will be more 24-hour pre-paid auto and taxi stands.

The police also propose to create “collectives” of women commuters on the same routes to help them articulate their grievances jointly. (Last year till September, 169 cases of molestation of women in public places were reported in the city.)

The police will request municipal authorities to create more “women-friendly enclaves,” such as women-only resting rooms and toilets. They will place self-addressed postcards at public places for women to mail complaints and suggestions. A senior official says the scheme is to ensure free and safe access to public places, an undeniable right of every citizen, irrespective of one’s gender.

Police units and members of the neighbourhood watch scheme will be trained to detect gender-based violence, says Mr. Vijayan, who heads the project.