Situated on the banks of River Damodar, the industrial township of Asansol-Durgapur is gradually emerging as a hub of large workforce, moderate per capita income and improved connectivity.
A mini Kolkata in the making, the twin cities have been able to withstand the slowdown, which is further spurring development.
With such progress, instances of crime have also risen, which is being commendably controlled by the Commissionerate of Asansol-Durgapur.
Of late, the district is attracting attention because of its proximity to Jamtara, a den of digital crimes, and that’s where the challenge lies for the Commissionerate.
Men in uniform ensure public safety
Determined to make his own mark in the department, Commissioner of Police Sukhesh Kumar Jain put his nose to the grindstone in the initial years of policing and is now constantly on his toes, battling criminals after he took charge of the Commissionerate of Durgapur-Asansol.
Commissioner Jain is known to be calm under pressure. He is an officer who has his ear to the ground and has his own innovative ways to bring the police and public closer.
“The Commissionerate has to primarily address problems and issues of the urban populace and, therefore, the police have very little response time. So my first priority for the Asansol-Durgapur Police Commissionerate will be quick response to public complaints any time on the highway or in corporations,” he said.
“I am trying to minimise the response time, which means reducing the time taken to reach the public and address their complaints.”
It’s easy to lump all law enforcement officers together as just “the police” if interactions with the public are not as intense as it should be. The police Commissionerate should have a strong control room that must be accessible to the public, believes the new Commissioner.
“Dial 100 should be made fully functional because it’s not possible that everybody has proper contact numbers to get in touch with the cops. They should be able to dial 100 from any corner of the Commissionerate and get a response,” he added.
“Dial 100 has some issues here which we are sorting out with BSNL and others. Once that is solved, people will be free to call us round-the-clock, and will be attended to by personnel in the control room who will listen to the problems and address them accordingly.”
The move is expected to enhance the visibility of police and bring them closer to the public. The distinct red and blue flashing lights of the cops’ vehicles, an officer stationed at the entrance of an event venue or the patrol vehicles criss-crossing the state and public places — people need to be aware of such police presence and feel assured that they are safe and secured, he said.
Various crime control measures have also been adopted to check untoward instances in the areas under the Commissionerate. CCTVs have been installed to crack cybercrime cases and also ensure women’s safety.
Commissioner Jain said there is a plan to spruce up surveillance by linking more CCTVs to the police control room along with increasing their number across Asansol and Durgapur, especially as they play a key role in tackling crimes against women.
The slew of measures is aimed at building a model control room to serve the people of the Commissionerate.
He also maintained: “First of all, we need to change our attitude and become more public-friendly. There are three measures. Firstly, we have to increase police mobility and vigil. The number of police mobile vehicles in town areas must be increased. We have to add more to the highway mobile vehicle fleet that will give a sense of security. People should feel free to reach out to us either through calls or visit directly.” He further maintained: “Nowadays, people can get in touch with us online as well through our website or email us to inform about their problems.”
On bridging the gap between the police and youth, he said: “We are approaching schools and colleges and are holding programmes almost every week or every 15 days where we talk about cybercrimes and anti-human trafficking.”
Commenting on how digitisation can help in the fight against crime, he said it is a world of mobile phones, wearable, location-aware, and digitally superior technologies. So the police are always more “connected” and have a deep sense of location — one that is more refined, instantaneous and even predictive in some cases.
Regarding crimes against women, the officer said that several dreadful incidents have occurred in the recent past but as the country is moving towards digital transformation, it will help in a big way to ensure women’s safety.
Asansol-Durgapur Commissionerate plans to optimise this trend and take the help of location technology to provide a major respite to women.
“Very soon, we will be launching one dedicated helpline for women,” he said.
“My officers are developing a user-friendly women safety app. With the help of this, when a woman presses an SOS button thrice,two SMSs will be sent immediately — one to a family member and other to the police control room, through which the nearest police station will be alerted. This will help in reaching out to the woman in distress without delay,” Commissioner Jain said.
The Asansol-Durgapur Commissionerate is headquartered at Asansol and is divided into three divisions — east, west and central. The Commissionerate is responsible for law enforcement in the area of Asansol and Durgapur subdivision of West Bengal with the help of 15 police stations functioning under it. Asansol Durgapur Police Commissionerate was established in 2011.
The Jamtara challenge
Jamtara is the ‘con capital of India’ and is notorious for digital crimes. The non-descript district of Jharkhand is often frequented by police from different states as it is one of the biggest hubs of cybercrime in the country. Known for its phishing scams, one will think twice before answering an unknown call from this area as online fraudsters call customers pretending to verify details and wipe out all the money from one’s bank account.
With more than half of India’s cybercrimes, mostly committed by fraudsters posing as bank managers, being traced to Jharkhand, this belt is clearly the dark underbelly of digital India.
“Lot of people are being duped each and every day by the gangs of Jamtara. They call people, take their OTP by telling different stories and take their money — almost every day people are cheated,” Commissioner Jain said.
An insidious web of mobile phone SIM cards, digital wallets and bank accounts opened with the help of fake KYC (Know Your Customer) documents, power hundreds of small gangs in the state — and point to the course that crimes can take in the country.
However, a dedicated cybercrime cell has now been installed to deal with one of the biggest cybercrime hubs in the country.
“We have recently arrested some people from Jamtara and have recovered jewellery and a good amount of money. Now, we have decided to intensify awareness among people about cybercrimes,” the officer said.
“We are targeting a cross-section of the public – college and school students, senior citizens and businessmen. Wewill be interacting with them regularly and apprise them about how they can possibly be cheated by these cybercriminals.”
The digital boom has pushed ordinary people into the world of crime where phishing is so common and yet so under-reported in the media.
Typically, the crime involves two people. One who makes a call to an unsuspecting customer seeking details of his bank account, posing as a bank official. The second person sits with a smartphone, all set to click on ‘proceed to make payment’ for items on an e-commerce website. He completes the transaction with the customer’s bank details within moments after his partner secures them. The SIM card is then disconnected and destroyed. In most of the cases, bank accounts or e-wallets of a third party is used to make these “vishing” transactions and the police have to follow a long trail to get to the main perpetrator.
So, how do they spend the money that they earn by conning people? This is not done ordinarily, as a lot of nefarious planning goes into this “business”.
“The money that they are earning is huge as they don’t have a place to spend it, so they come to either Asansol or Durgapur to spend it,” Sayak Das, ADCP (Central) said while pointing out to a number of people who enter Jamtara from Asansol and Durgapur every day.
“There are primarily two reasons for it. Firstly, they don’t have a place to spend their money and secondly, these people have to withdraw the amount which they got from the ATMs, therefore, they have to come to Asansol which has ATM density,” he said.
Jamtara’s cybercriminals and their flashy lifestyles often grab the attention of locals from neighbouring Asansol and Durgapur. Thus, this operation is gradually spreading to Asansol and Durgapur as well.
Located in the Santhal Pargana region, Jamtara, which was demarcated as a district in April 2001, has been prone to crimes in the past as well.
People of Asansol and Durgapur also get affected with the lifestyle of these fraudsters. Locals who come in contact gradually learn the tricks of the trade and become a part of such groups.
Until a couple of years ago, Jamtara’s cybercrime masterminds operated without much hassle but today the scenario has changed as police have begun to intensely crack down on them.
A network, which duped users of payment app wallet under the pretext of updating KYC details, has been busted with the arrest of the accused.
The gang had cheated hundreds of people following the same modus operandi, the arrested members of the gang allegedly told the police.
“Recently, acting on a tip-off, we arrested four persons in fraud cases, and armed with more information we got from them, we managed to arrest one more from Durgapur,” Das said.
“Following the arrest of these five, police came to know that public data is being leaked.”
He said: “Police in this connection also arrested two employees of a bank call-centre and they have divulged the entire conspiracy used to cheat people.”
Explaining this modus operandi, Das said: “When an individual goes to a particular bank to withdraw money, in case the transaction fails, people place a complaint using a number displayed on the ATM screen. The database of the particular bank was leaked by the customer care based in Gurgaon and from there it was sent to Patna and then to Durgapur to be sold.”
With an increase in breakthroughs in such cases, he said: “Initially, I handled suo moto cases in this regard, and police seized high-end bikes, four-wheelers and arrested dozens of people,” the officer said, highlighting the involvement of people from lower to higher strata of society.
“They are now shifting to commodities from cash because they buy ATM cards of several people, dormant accounts, and use them for committing bank frauds. Therefore, gradually, they are trying to move out of the banking system and the option they have is a wallet,” he said.
This has revealed the involvement of a leading commercial establishment and a jewellery group, raising many eyebrows.
Some corporate and business brand managers were arrested as well in this connection.
Police investigations have revealed that the main accused then bought high-value cash vouchers from the amount withdrawn from these commercial establishments and sent them through WhatsApp to the kingpin.
More advanced the technology the simpler the fraud becomes.
Asserting that cybercrime and cheating have become the trend, he said: “They buy shopping coupons of big commercial establishments that become part of the conspiracy and large consignments are sold.”
“People involved in other crimes are now becoming a part of online frauds as easy money is surely a factor. With the confiscation of gold and cash, these fraudsters are now converting cash to gold, he added.
“Some big brand gold companies are involved in the business now as raids reveal, “the police said.
Woman officers to the rescue
Women in policing are now breaking barriers. A group of young women officers in charge of the only two all-women police stations in Asansol-Durgapur Commissionerate are creating history. Often shunned by their counterparts and even their families, the stigma facing women police personnel here are not only fighting taboo, but also perception.
Female police officers in Asansol and Durgapur are changing the way violence against women is reported. All-woman Police Stations (WPS) increased crime reportage by a significant percentage.
“Women Police Station of Asansol was started on January 1, 2012 and this mainly helps to deal with domestic violence cases and exploitation of women,” Nasrin Sultana, the Officer-In-Charge of the police station said.
These police stations exclusively investigate crimes against women and focus particularly on dowry and domestic violence instances, cybercrimes, abduction and sexual offences.
The police have shifted their attention to women married outside the state who are getting more harassed, Sultana said. “Maximum cases of domestic violence are reported by women who are married off outside the state mainly in the border areas of Jharkhand, Bihar, UP and Delhi.”
The role entrusted to them involves neutralising violence against women, refusing to let the divisive “othering” occur and swiftly and fearlessly implement the law.
However, a lack of knowledge and awareness often creates hurdles for the police department in tackling crime.
“Recently, police has observed that cybercrime through social media is emerging in women-related cases, prompting the police to conduct programmes in the form of PowerPoint presentations at different schools and colleges,” she said.
“Regular awareness programmes on cybercrimes are being held at around 25-30 schools and colleges, apart from presenting PowerPoint presentations on ATM frauds. Women’s interactions with unknown people on social media and picture morphing are also monitored,” Office-in-Charge Sultana said.
By building a bonhomie with the local women, the officers ensure safety and security to the womenfolk, especially when the most affected prefer to remain silent rather than face the humiliation and abuse of telling their stories to the police.
Another challenge that the police team is dealing with is human trafficking and child marriage.
Under Swayang Siddha, meaning self-reliance, executed by the West Bengal Police, young boys and girls are empowered by teaching them to make informed choices so that they are less vulnerable to trafficking and child marriage.
With the help of the police, Swayang Siddha groups have been formed in schools and colleges.
The Swayang Siddha programme that centres around child molestation is organised in various schools where awareness about child-trafficking is also generated. “We target schools and colleges as several cases involving children go unreported having been sabotaged by families fearing social stigma,” the officer said.
Apart from these measures, apps like Abhaya have been launched by the police, which also spreads awareness about its benefits so that every woman in the district feels protected.