“We do not have to run around to help missing persons. What anyone can do is, if you come across any missing person, is to contact the nearest police station and a hospital, if required. For seniors who are suffering from dementia or Alzheimer’s, they always have an identification card with them. Also, they make it a habit to keep a mobile with them with numbers that can be contacted when required by someone who is helping them,” says Prabhat Kumar, Special IG of Police for Law & Order in Maharashtra. He was speaking at the tenth session under the “Police & You” series.
Moneylife Foundation with Police Reforms Watch and support from Saraswat Bank have launched the 12-week program (every Wednesday) that aims to spread knowledge about protecting yourself, your rights, the Indian Penal Code (IPC), cybercrime and economic offences. This was the tenth such session.
Mr Kumar, the man behind Shodh, a search engine that is dedicated for searching accident victims and missing, found persons, especially in and around Mumbai, says, “The way forward for finding missing persons is to have a unified portal with an integrated system. This must run on artificial intelligence software, which can identify faces and other details. I think such an initiative will make a big difference in tracing missing persons across the country.”
The event was held in the well-appointed auditorium of Saraswat Bank headquarters, Eknath Thakur Bhavan.
The tenth session of the 12-week series on “The Police & You- Missing Persons: What can you do if someone goes missing?” was conducted by Mr Kumar, Vasant Dhoble, former Assistant Commissioner of Police (ACP) in Mumbai and noted activist Samir Zaveri.
Mr Dhoble, who, developed and implemented new protocols for Missing Persons Unit at Mumbai Police, which resulted in finding about 7,000 missing individuals, including children in just six months, says, “I have witnessed and rescued women and children from flesh trade, begging racket, child labour, and organ trafficking. It had become unbearable, and therefore on post-retirement, I decided to take initiative to curb such callous immoral activities. For locating mission person, we use search engine, face recognition and detection engine, web and internet services.”
The former ACP, known as the second most feared policeman in Mumbai (encounter specialists were the most dreaded cops), especially among the city’s restaurants and pubs, is now using his vast network of informants and volunteers, along with some Bollywood celebrities, like Ajay Devgn, for sharing information on missing persons on a website, missingpeopleinfo.com. People whose loved ones are missing can post their information and pictures on this website. A site monitor then forwards this information to registered volunteers and shares it with the police. “The public can also join the effort,” Mr Dhoble said, adding, “If they spot a person listed on missingpeopleinfo.com begging on a street or wandering around, they can click a picture and post it on the website. Volunteers will then work to locate the person.”
Mr Dhoble also explained role and duty of police in finding missing persons. He said, “The police have to register a first information report (FIR) in case of minors and file a ‘missing report’ for adults. They need to initiate investigation in case of FIR. This includes, broadcasting wireless message about the missing person, giving information to Control Room (CR) and Missing Person Bureau (MPB) and also publishing the information in the Police Notice.”
He said, if a person goes missing, you need to file a complaint with the Police and also post the information on www.missingpeopleinfo.com along with the FIR number or missing report. “Our team then follows up with the police and also use our database to trace or track by matching the persons’ profile. Among all the persons who are reported to be missing, actually only few of them are out of our reach. Most of them are waiting somewhere for someone to help them connect with their family. That ‘someone’ can be you or anyone like us. There is no better job than to help someone overcome their misery,” he added.
Mr Zaveri, a rail accident victim, has devoted his life to helping victims of railways accidents. He informed the audience about efforts being taken by the Central, Western Railways as well as Government Railway Police (GRP) in providing information on missing persons on rail tracks. “However,” he said, “It was not easy task. I was one of the persons, who had filed a public interest litigation (PIL) in the Bombay High Court. The HC in its order on 26 March 2009, directed the railways to put names of rail accident victims and other details. The Court also asked both Central and Western Railways to upload photo of the victim, if possible. Now, both the railways are following this process and to a great extent it helps in searching a missing person.
“When Mr Prabhat Kumar was the Commissioner of GRP, he set up a website ‘Shodh’, a search engine to search accident victims and missing or found persons on the railway track. Most of the times, it is the GRP, who are first to get in touch with the missing person or rail accident victim on rail tracks. So they are in a much better position to gather all information and update it on the Shodh website,” Mr Zaveri added.
Replying to question on police not taking complaints within 24 hours, Mr Kumar said, “There is no such rule. However, what happens is that police suggest the person to search the missing person at few more locations and then come back. If they still are not able to find the person then file the complaint.”