At the ATM of a national bank in the city on Wednesday evening, the entrance is dark and empty. The door has no access lock. Crumpled payment slips lie strewn on the floor. The only visible ‘security’ is the hardware store salesman next door.

Across the street, hardly a few metres away, a private bank ATM lies equally desolate. The only difference is that the air-conditioner works here and the floor is clean. There may be a security guard lurking somewhere near — an empty chair outside is proof, so is a shirt hanging inside the ATM counter.

At a third one, Vishwanathan S., in his late sixties, acts more as a parking attendant for the hotel next door than the ATM guard. He is on over-time and exhausted. He slouches on his chair, hardly noticing the people walking into the ATM. When asked if he had “heard” of the attack on a woman in an ATM in Bangalore on Tuesday, he gives a blank stare. The security at ATMs in the city is mostly non-existent. Guards are usually past their prime, underpaid, unarmed and mostly asked to work over-time if the person working on the next shift does not turn up. Again, they are given little or no basic facilities.

For women in the city, visiting an ATM after dark is a challenge. Lack of streetlights makes matters worse for ATM users in the night. “Security was diluted long ago. Most ATM doors do not have access locks. This is part of austerity measures taken by banks. Permanent security staff is expensive. Elderly persons are vulnerable to fraud as some of them have trouble with the cards and seek help from strangers because there is no security staff,” P. Radhakrishnan, Kozhikode district secretary, All Kerala Bank Employees Federation, said.

“There is no commitment by private security staff to customers. For one, they cannot even protect themselves. In the city, crime is on the high, especially during late nights,” Advocate P.T.S Unni, president, Calicut Chamber of Commerce, said. Mr. Unni suggests that the police form a unit like the Home Guards as an alternative policing mechanism for all ATMs. The unit can operate under the supervision of the local Station House Officer,” he said.

“Surveillance cameras only cover the space inside the ATM. There is no surveillance seen outside the ATMs,” Sherlet Mani, Circle Inspector, Women’s Cell of the city police.

However, a senior bank official said that ATMs were located in spots where there was “public mobility” and customer traffic was less than 50 per cent between 8 p.m. to 8 a.m. “Access locks in most ATMs are damaged due to rough use,” the official said.

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