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Last Updated: Thursday, 22 November 2007, 15:26 GMT
Text service dogs women drivers
By Faisal Mohammed Ali
BBC News, Bhopal

Woman in Bhopal, Madhya Pradesh, India
Many women drivers complained of harassment
Officials in a central Indian state have stopped a text messaging service giving out drivers' contact details after men used it to pester women.

The facility, launched a year ago, was withdrawn after women complained to the Madhya Pradesh transport department that they were being harassed by men.

Under the scheme, anyone could send a text to access a vehicle owner's name, address and phone number.

Officials say most of the information being sought pertained to young women.

Harassment tool

Officials say the original idea was to provide "citizen-centric services" and assist police and investigating agencies.

"SMS [short text message] us the vehicle registration number... and get all the information - vehicle, tax and owner's details etc," read the advertisement put out by the Madhya Pradesh state transport department.

What can be done if a man is hell-bent on finding a woman's whereabouts?
Bhopal resident Taseen Khorakiwala

But soon the department found that the service had become particularly popular with men seeking to contact young women.

Deputy state Transport Commissioner Upendra Jain says the [transport] department received several "informal complaints" through police sources and concerned citizens that the facility was being used for "other purposes".

Therefore, it was decided to limit the information provided through text messages, he said.

"Now our system does not send back the address and phone number of the owner," he said.

But people can still find out the owner's name.

Too much information

Although officials say information provided through cell phone text messages has been shortened mainly because "the number of messages sent to the transport department has increased several fold", they admit that the harassment complaints "were a big reason too".

The service was introduced last year as part of a shift towards e-governance and aimed at introducing transparency.

Women drivers in Bhopal (Photo: Raj Patidar)
Under the scheme it was easy to get details of vehicle owners (Pic: Raj Patidar)

The facility was also meant to help policemen quickly find out details of vehicles involved in accidents or those suspected to have been stolen or involved in a crime.

The information was also meant to help those purchasing second-hand vehicles by providing details of the original date of purchase, fitness certificate, taxes and fees paid.

Some people say the transport department is still providing too much information in the public domain as their website still lists address details of owners.

"But what can be done if a man is hell-bent on finding a woman's whereabouts? He can get it by some other means too," says Taseen Khorakiwala, a young resident of the state capital, Bhopal.

"Anyway, easier access to information can be a boon as well as a bane," she says.

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