K. JAVEED NAYEEM writes: The recent attack on a lady ATM user in Bangalore was a most heinous crime that sent shock waves across our society because of the impact of the live visuals which everyone saw on television.
Thankfully, the lady’s life does not seem to be in danger although she is likely to take a long time to get over the trauma of the very brutal assault, both physically and mentally. Her helplessness and vulnerability seem to have galvanised our government into some action.
But the news that the home minister has ordered all ATMs in the State to be manned by armed guards within three days seemed like a rather tall order to me. Knowing the government’s propensity to always bite off more than it can actually chew I was not very surprised.
In fact, I was expecting an order just like this going by the very predictable knee-jerk responses we see from the administrative machinery always and only after a disturbing incident.
That is why two buses had to burn and kill more than 50 helpless passengers in less than two weeks before we realised that the rather cosmetic emergency exits are no good in a real emergency. Now arrangements are being made to render our buses much safer and their operations perhaps a little saner.
Arranging armed guards for the thousands of ATMs in the State is an impossible task even in three months let alone in three days, unless our Police force itself takes over the responsibility which again is an impossibility. Armed guards do not come cheap even by the dozen and I do not think anyone can mobilise so many arms and trained men to handle them at short notice.
Although many banks these days have their own weapons and trained personnel to wield them, most of the armed security guards we see around banks, ATMs and in currency transporting vans are ex-servicemen with their own licenced weapons who make a living in their retirement.
They take up this vocation as it matches the kind of work they are used to and because of their excellent training and background, arms licences are issued to them a little liberally than to other ordinary people. So after having realised its mistake in just one day the government has diluted its own orders to posting only guards minus the arms.
Even such guards cannot be procured in a hurry and therefore if the present recommendations of the government are implemented both in letter and spirit we will see many ATMs being shut down by night or even by day for want of guards. And, the situation is likely to remain so till enough guards are recruited and deployed which will understandably take much time.
The new arrangement will now mean having a man, able-bodied or otherwise, near every ATM in attire that looks like a uniform. Still, this is better than nothing as it means having someone there who if successfully and sufficiently woken up from his sleep before one enters the ATM can at least keep a watch over the movements of any suspicious looking characters hovering in the vicinity.
Although our ATMs have many defects from the security point of view, providing adequate security alone is not the complete answer to the problems one faces at them.
People who use them too should exercise some caution based on common sense to ensure their own safety.
I see many people walking into secluded ATMs in pitch dark surroundings at unearthly hours with mobile phones glued to their ears and drawing money without the slightest attention to their own safety. Let alone a lady, even the burliest of men can be rendered completely helpless by just two hoodlums when he is completely immersed in his phone conversation and the ATM operation.
Just because cash is available round-the-clock at ATMs one should not visit them at very odd times unless it is an unforeseen emergency.
If we know that we need cash on a particular day the visit to the ATM can be planned during much safer hours.
When there is a choice, people should try to visit ATMs at busy places like Railway Stations and bus stands if there is urgent need for cash late in the night or early in the morning even if it means a slightly longer drive from home. And at these times it is always better if two or more individuals make the trip so that someone can keep a watch outside while one draws the cash.
Visitors to ATMs in cars should lock their vehicles while they draw cash to ensure that someone does not creep into the rear seat and spring a surprise on them later.
All ATMs should mandatorily have high resolution CCTV surveillance both inside and outside to ensure that the identity of the users is clearly recorded for identification later if necessary.
The shutters of all ATMs should have an arrangement by which they can be locked in the open position allowing them to be closed only by authorised personnel. This can be done by just welding a shackle to the beam above and therefore it should be the first safety measure to be implemented.
The positioning of the machine itself is faulty in most of the kiosks as the user has to operate it without being able to watch the entrance even with his or her peripheral vision. If they are placed sideways they become much safer.
Otherwise a large mirror if installed on the rear wall will ensure this without any major alterations to existing ATMs. A very loud alarm that can attract the attention of passersby, with its button prominently and conveniently placed next to the screen will be an added advantage.
Closing down ATMs for want of guards will only be a retrograde move as it defeats the very purpose of having them and this proposal needs a rethink from a practical point of view. Until we have much safer ATMs, people should be educated to use them with adequate care and caution to ensure their own safety while enjoying the convenience they offer.
(K. Javeed Nayeem is a practising physician who writes a weekly column in Star of Mysore, where this piece originally appeared)
Photograph: courtesy IBN
Also read: When an ATM stands for anything but money