Like many international-standard highways, the Mumbai-Ahmedabad National Highway was also fitted with SOS phone booths to help motorists in case of any emergency. However, a closer look will reveal that a majority of the booths are no longer functional, since the phones have been stolen.

A majority of the SOS booths installed along the Mumbai-Ahmedabad Highway are inactive as the phones have been ripped out
A majority of the SOS booths installed along the Mumbai-Ahmedabad Highway are inactive as the phones have been ripped out

Recently, while travelling via the Mumbai-Ahmedabad highway, this reporter noticed that several of the emergency phones were missing. Instead, there were several signboards put up by the Maharashtra Highway Police and the highway operator IRB Infrastruc-ture, listing toll-free numbers for emergency purposes.

According to the state highway police, 50-odd SOS toll booths were installed by IRB on the 170-km stretch between Mumbai and Charoti after the highway was widened in 2008-2009. This reporter saw at least seven booths without phones between Virar Phata and Manor, and officials said this was the case with most of the other booths as well.

“It is true that the SOS phone booths were installed on the highway but over the years, we understood that theft was a big problem. So we installed a state-of-the-art control room to act on emergency calls we receive on the toll-free numbers. We also have put up many boards mentioning the emergency numbers on the highway,” said a senior official from IRB.

Some motorists, however, think this is not enough, and that the authorities should re-install phones.

Sonal Panchal, a motorist, said, “The highway is infamous for accidents, so the fact that the SOS phones have gone missing is shocking. In case of an accident, cell phones might get damaged too, and these SOS booths can be helpful. The authorities should reinstall the phones and make sure that there is a locking system so that people cannot steal them again.”

Expert speak
Tanmay Pendse, an expert who has done a survey of accidents on the Mumbai-Pune Expressway, also said, “The main aim behind installing the SOS phones is to provide quick access to emergency numbers in case of accidents. The phones should be regularly checked, and if they have gone missing from the Mumbai-Ahmedabad Highway then the NHAI authorities should reinstall them.”

Another motorist, Vinod Chaudhary, said, “The phone booths were useful because it’s not just vehicle owners but also local residents who could use them to inform the authorities about the accident or any emergency.”

A Virar Phata resident, who did not wish to be named, said if the state does not install new phones, it should at least remove the yellow booths so that people are not misled.

Cop speak
“Our team does patrolling on the highway at regular intervals and it is true that the SOS phone booths can be useful in case of an emergency, but the issue of theft is beyond control. These phones have been installed at deserted locations and it is not possible to guard them 24x7. We have installed multiple banners and boards on the highway with emergency numbers,” said Police Inspector Chandrashekhar Sawant from the Highway Safety Patrol (State Highway Police), Thane.