The alleged rape of a woman in Delhi on December 15, almost four years to the day of the infamous Delhi gangrape, has once again highlighted that the Delhi Police is not patrolling the city at optimum capacity.

The police say they are hamstrung by a severe shortage of drivers and other personnel, which has restricted the patrolling network to less than two-thirds of its actual capacity. In addition to this, a shortage of female personnel means that not all emergency response vehicles are staffed by women, which is recommended in the case of distress calls related to sexual offences against women. Pleas to the Union Home Ministry – which controls the Delhi Police – to sanction more staff have gone unheeded so far.

Last month, the Delhi High Court even pulled up the Union Home Ministry for not sanctioning funds that will enable the force to deploy adequate personnel across the city.

No patrol van drivers

In last week’s incident, a 19-year-old woman, who had been offered a lift by a driver operating a private car as a taxi, was taken to a desolate spot in Moti Bagh, a South Delhi enclave comprising accommodation for central government employees, and allegedly raped. The woman managed to escape, and was picked up by police personnel patrolling the area in an emergency response vehicle. The alleged perpetrator was arrested after about six hours.

The night after the incident, no police patrol van was spotted for an hour anywhere near the desolate spot where the crime had taken place, the Indian Express reported.

“After the December 16 [2012] incident, the unit was sanctioned 370 patrolling vans, but no drivers to drive them,” said a senior police officer in the Operations wing of the Delhi Police, who wanted to remain anonymous.

The injection of new vehicles brought the total number of patrol vans with the Delhi Police to 1,000. Of these, not counting those that are grounded for maintenance and repairs, and those that have been condemned to the junkyard, the Delhi Police’s Control Room has about 850 vans at its disposal. To operate these vans round-the-clock with one batch kept in reserve, the Police Control Room unit needs at least 3,400 drivers. However, it has only 2,200.

“Last year, the unit borrowed 500 constables from police headquarters and posted them as drivers,” the senior officer said. “We have written to the Union Home Ministry about the problem and proposed a change in selection criteria for constables, making a drivers’ license compulsory for recruitment, which can address the issue to a certain extent.”

Few women personnel

The shortage is not just of drivers.

Police patrol cars are usually the first to respond to distress calls made to the emergency number 100.

Thus, each of these mobile units need to have a female police personnel present to help victims feel at ease if the call relates to cases of sexual assault against women.

But till 2014, there were only 43 women officials posted in the Delhi Police’s patrolling network. After a few more women were posted to the unit, the number now stands at 240.

“[In cases of road accidents] women personnel take care of women victims, consider factors related to handling them, and rush them to hospital,” said the police officer. “The PCR [Police Control Room] unit attends to more such calls in a year than the Centralised Accident and Trauma Services [or CATS] in the city.”

In the past two years, several women have even delivered their children in patrol cars in Delhi.

Though the number of women with the patrol unit increased to 240 between 2014 and 2016, this still means that just 60 out of 850 patrol vans in each shift (out of four including the reserve) can have a female police personnel on duty.

No sanction of personnel

Overall too, the Police Control Room unit is short of staff, said the senior police officer.

“We have also sent proposals to the Union Home Ministry seeking recruitment of 5,600 personnel in the PCR [Police Control Room] unit but that has not been sanctioned so far,” the officer said.

A Police Control Room van needs three personnel – a driver, an armed police personnel and one person in charge. Thus, operating 850 vans in four shifts, including the reserve shift, requires around 10,200 personnel. At present, the entire unit has a total strength of around 7,800 personnel out of which around 400 man the communications department, which also runs 24x7.

“Due to the severe crisis of staff, every department has to suffer,” the officer said. “We often have to do with two personnel in patrol vans when the system actually demands three in each. We also divert staff to other departments within the PCR [Police Control Room] unit to somehow manage the existing crisis.”