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Telecable Theft in Mussoorie

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By Hugh & Colleen Gantzer

Our phone went dead at around 3 a.m. on 29th March, 2023. Yes, we were working at that time and, yes, we do rely on our landline. It is a service provided by the state and we support it and expect it to support us. So far, it has done so. We know that strange things have been happening to this service and stranger rumours have been circulating, whispers that crony capitalists have been at work to corral us into their folds, but that has not changed our resolve to be dedicated landliners. So, naturally we were very, very indignant when our phone remained dead for days. As media-folk for 50 years we have generations of contact with other families in our small town. We had to call on many of them, and the reservoirs of mutual trust, to get even close to the facts of this communication tragedy.

Here is what we discovered:-

On the 29th of March 2023, between 3 and 6 a.m., 20 metres of cable on the Mall above Shawfield Road, aka the Tibetan Market, and 10 metres of cable at Ambedkar Chowk, aka the junction of Camel’s Back Road, were dug up and stolen. The theft was reported to the Police at about 11 a.m. on the 29th morning. Till mid-day on 4th April 2023, no case had been registered. The Police, apparently, claimed that they were still reviewing the CCTV Camera evidence.

The Mall is Mussoorie’s main thoroughfare, extending from east to west along our southern-facing ridge. It gives superb views of the valley of the Doon. About midway along the Mall is the Telephone Exchange. From there, telephone lines stretch underground, along the Mall, to a Junction Box on the western end of the Mall. At that Junction Box, the lines go to overhead wires and into the individual telephones. Consequently, when the cables were stolen, the Junction Box could not receive any signals. From then on, the landlines to the west of Mussoorie, including ours, went dead.

Another important fact is that much of the Mall is under repair. It is virtually inaccessible to motor vehicles in spite of this being the start of the Tourist Season. This could give rise to a Class Action by all those who make a living on tourists at this, the start of the usual influx of visitors. Unlike the loss accruing because of some environmental factors in Joshimath, the theft of landline cables in Mussoorie was a straight-forward criminal offence.

So, who should be held responsible for nabbing the thieves? The Telecom Department does not have the security staff to do this. It is, clearly, a Law and Order problem within the jurisdiction of the Police. But before we lay the burden on these uniformed personnel let us ask ourselves if we have given them the means to fulfill these obligations. In hurried self defence they have reportedly said that they are examining their CCTV footage. What CCTV footage? How many CCTVs do they have on the Mall? How many of these were working on that night? How many of those cameras feed into screens in police stations? How many monitors are manned and for how long? In short, does the local Police have the manpower, time, equipment, training and unfettered authority to carry out such duties effectively? Judging from the Ankita Bhandari case they do not.

In the Ankita case, a hurried report claimed that a smear test had given negative results. Then we in this column asked about the reliability of such a test on a body immersed in running water over a prolonged period. It was only then that the authorities admitted that, in those circumstances, the test could not be relied upon! So, now we ask the netas and babus not to give answers based on such spin-doctored platitudes as “We have a double engine sarkar”. One of us was born in Gujarat into a family employed in the famed Bombay Baroda and Central India Railway (BB&CI). Former BB&CI people have told us that if the two engines have not been perfectly coordinated in their operations, they are likely to derail.

Spin-doctors are high priced creators of verbal djinns. But they will not solve the problem of the Tele-cable Theft in Mussoorie!

(Hugh & Colleen Gantzer hold the National Lifetime Achievement Award for Tourism among other National and International awards. Their credits include over 52 halfhour documentaries on national TV under their joint names, 26 published books in 6 genres, and over 1,500 firstperson articles, about every Indian state, UT and 34 other countries. Hugh was a Commander in the Indian Navy and the Judge Advocate, Southern Naval Command. Colleen is the only travel writer who was a member of the Travel Agents Association of India.)