The Delhi Police’s 15 ‘Tourist Police’ vans, five of which were added in October 2018, are being used as Police Control Room vans and the officers of the special unit rarely ever deal with tourists — most of whom are unaware that such a force exists.
The vans, manned by 3-4 officers each, are deployed at 15 locations, including Humayun’s Tomb, India Gate, Palika Bazaar Main Gate, Janpath Market, Raj Ghat, New Delhi Railway Station (Ajmeri Gate side and Pahar Ganj side), Red Fort, Indira Gandhi International Airport (Arrival and Terminal 1), Qutub Minar, Lotus Temple, Akshardham Temple, Dilli Haat and Jama Masjid.
When The Hindu visited Humayun Tomb on Friday, the Tourist Police van had gone to attend an accident call. At India Gate, it had gone for Raising Day preparations, which the Delhi Police celebrates every year on February 16, claimed the PCR van officers deployed at the two spots.
At Janpath Market, it turned out that the Tourist Police officers had gone to attend a PCR call. The van arrived at the market a short time later, but was soon called up to manage traffic in another area. At India Gate, a photographer, who had set up a small kiosk, said “he sees the van sometimes, but not regularly”.
Sometimes, police officers deployed in the high-footfall areas help tourists, if they are approached. As the Tourist Police officers were attending an accident call near Humayun Tomb, Assistant Sub-Inspector Brijendra Singh was approached by a Japanese couple seeking directions to enter the tomb.
“Inside? You want to go inside?” he asked, as the couple nodded. “Go straight. Take left,” he said.
Another officer, who did not wish to be named, said that attending PCR calls was a priority for Tourist Police vans. “The Tourist PVs are stationed at their base, but if there is a PCR call directed to them, they have to rush there. Sometimes it takes hours for the van to return,” the officer said.
However, the Tourist Police are not absent from all the destinations. A Tourist Police Officer at Janpath Market said the van is present round-the-clock and officers work in three shifts of 12 hours after which they get 24 hours rest, similar to the usual PCR officers’ schedule.
“Most of the enquiries [by tourists] are about directions or where they can find the metro. There are hardly any complaints about touts; perhaps once a month,” said a Tourist Police officer stationed at Janpath Market.
“If there is a dedicated team to help tourists, then they should probably do just that. We will be able to help them better and concentrate on them more,” suggested another officer.
When asked about the communication with foreign nationals, the officer said they manage with broken English or with the help of locals. “Understanding English is not tough. We mostly manage or take help of locals passing by in case we don’t understand the pronunciation. But if they speak in any other language, then it becomes a problem,” he said.
But are the tourists aware that the Capital has a ‘Tourist Police’? A group of tourists who had come from Sydney and were visiting India Gate said they did not know about the unit, neither did a visitor from England.
Eleanor (50), who arrive in India on February 7, said: “I had no idea that something like this exists. Neither my travel agent nor officials at the Embassy or visa office ever informed me about the Tourist Police. Nobody at the airport also mentioned this,” she said while clutching a map of Delhi.
When asked how tourists are made aware of the special unit, Deputy Commissioner of Police (Police Control Room) Deepak Purohit said the vans are clearly visible at the popular tourist destinations. He also said that it is mentioned on the Delhi Police website.
Mr. Purohit said the Tourist Police officers, around 45-50 in total, are selected based on their proficiency in English after which they are trained on “soft skills” for a week.
However, an officer who has been posted in the unit for four months, claimed he never got any special training. “There is a regular two-month training for language for which officers are sent. I did not go for any one-week training,” he said.
The Tourist Police unit was set up in 2004 after a 59-year-old Australian woman was killed after being robbed. Recently, a Belgian woman who had come to India in December returned home less than 24 hours into her trip after allegedly being harassed by several people.