Nearly half the residents who call Chennai Corporation’s revamped helpline do so only to check if the number is working. When the 1913 helpline was re-launched on May 13, the civic body’s call centre received a considerable number of calls. These increased tenfold and touched an all-time high of 1,971 on May 14. But 1,035 of these callers hung up within seconds, that too without registering any civic complaint.

Similarly, on May 15, 436 of the 897 callers did not register any complaint. On May 16, as many as 642 of the 937 callers hung up within moments after dialling the helpline number. Intrigued by the rising number of such calls, the Corporation launched a drive to identify the reason behind such a large number of calls and why most callers were hanging up without even speaking a word.

By Monday evening, the call centre had returned calls of a tenth of the residents who had mysteriously remained silent even after their calls got connected. “They replied that they had called the helpline merely out of curiosity,” said a Corporation official at the call centre. “One of them even asked if we could prevent the neighbourhood vegetable vendor from selling a carrot for Rs. 10. Most residents didn’t seem to understand what a civic issue is,” the official added.

A number of residents, who had called the helpline, admitted that they did so out of curiosity. “We read in the papers that ‘1913’ had been re-launched by the Corporation, so I called to see if the number was really working,” said A. Arokiyanathan, a resident of Vysarpadi. He, however, said he was not aware of the type of civic issues that can be reported to 1913.

There are 92 types of civic complaints — ranging from dirty public toilets to names missing on voters’ list — that the Corporation helpline is bound to entertain. But most citizens are not aware what they are. Mr. Arokiyanathan said the Corporation should display the complete list in Tamil at every corporation ward office and public place in the 426 sq km of the city.