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India 2017 Crime & Safety Report: Kolkata

South Central Asia > India; South Central Asia > India > Kolkata

Overall Crime and Safety Situation

U.S. Consulate Kolkata (Calcutta) does not assume responsibility for the professional ability or integrity of the persons or firms appearing in this report. The ACS Unit cannot recommend a particular individual or location and assumes no responsibility for the quality of service provided.

THE U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE HAS ASSESSED KOLKATA AS BEING A MEDIUM-THREAT LOCATION FOR CRIME DIRECTED AT OR AFFECTING OFFICIAL U.S. GOVERNMENT INTERESTS.

Please review OSAC’s India-specific webpage for proprietary analytic reports, Consular Messages, and contact information.

Crime Threats

Though Kolkata does experience a full range of criminal activity, most of the crime is generally non-violent. Petty crime (theft of personal property) is common and occurs regularly in local markets, tourists’ sites, and on public transportation (buses, auto rickshaws). Extra vigilance should be exercised in major tourist areas, overnight trains, rail stations, and at airports. Foreigners are favorable targets because they often carry a considerable amount of cash and are easily distracted by the sights. Be especially cautious in: train stations, tourist sites, market places, festivals, and marginal areas of the city. Do not accept food/drink from strangers.

Preplan your destination regarding your stay and tourism. Have ground transportation prearranged. Have the phone numbers of local friends/contacts readily available and/or saved to your mobile phone. If you schedule a meeting with a potential client, research the company and the individual with whom you are meeting and meet in a public place.

Keep your hotel door locked. Meet visitors in the lobby. In addition, electronics should be secured in a hotel safe to prevent theft or loss of data. Use the hotel safe. Let someone know when you expect to return if you are out late at night. Read the fire safety instructions in your hotel room. Know how to report a fire. Be sure you know where the nearest fire exits and alternate exits are. Count the doors between your room and the nearest exit.

Travelers should exercise modesty and caution in their financial dealings to reduce the chance of being a target for robbery or other serious crime. Deal only with authorized agents when you exchange money, buy airline tickets, or purchase souvenirs. Do not change money on the black market.

A number of scams target foreign travelers. The scams generally target younger travelers and involve suggestions that money can be made by transporting gems/gold (both of which can result in arrest) privately or by taking delivery abroad of expensive carpets, supposedly avoiding customs duties. Most schemes require that the traveler put up a "deposit" to either show sincerity or as a down payment or as the wholesale cost. All travelers are strongly cautioned that the schemes invariably result in the traveler being fleeced. The gems/gold are nearly always counterfeit; if they were real, the traveler could be subject to arrest. Such schemes often pull the unsuspecting traveler in over the course of several days and begin with a new friend who offers to show the traveler the sights and/or to practice his English. Offers of cheap lodgings and meals also can place the traveler in the physical custody of the scam artist and can leave the traveler at the mercy of threats or even physical coercion. Travelers should deal only with reputable businesses and should not give over their money unless they are certain that goods being shipped to them are the goods they purchased.

Burglaries tend to occur when there are security vulnerabilities. It is recommended that all American residents install window grilles and solid core doors with deadbolt locks on exterior doors. Proper perimeter walls and, if necessary, guards should be in place at residences.

Violent crime is rare. Women report incidents of verbal and physical harassment by groups of men. These incidents can be quite frightening and can cross the line into criminal behavior.

Other Areas of Concern

Parts of India are "restricted areas" by the Indian government and require special advance permission to visit including:

  • The state of Mizoram*
  • The state of Manipur*
  • The state of Arunachal Pradesh
  • The state of Nagaland*
  • The state of Sikkim*

*On January 1, 2011, the Ministry of Home Affairs announced that American citizens traveling as tourists would not need Restricted Area Permits to visit Mizoram, Manipur and Nagaland. The implementing regulations have not been clarified; however, so American citizens are advised to seek clarification before traveling to these areas. More information on travel to/in restricted areas can be found at India’s Bureau of Immigration. You can obtain “Restricted Area Permits" at Indian Embassies/Consulates or from the Ministry of Home Affairs (Foreigners Division) at Jaisalmer House, 26 Man Singh Road, New Delhi. The states of Mizoram, Manipur, Nagaland, Arunachal Pradesh, and Sikkim all maintain official guesthouses in New Delhi, each of which also can issue Restricted Area Permits for their state for certain travelers. The Foreigner Registration Office in Kolkata is located at 237 Acharya Jagdish Chandra Bose Road, Kolkata - 700 020.

Visitors to India's northeast (Assam, Manipur, and Meghalaya) are cautioned to avoid trains, crowds, and travel outside major cities at night.

You should limit trekking expeditions to routes identified for this purpose by local authorities. Solicit assistance only from registered trekking agencies, porters, and guides; suspend trekking after dark; camp at designated camping places; and ideally travel in groups of 8-10 people rather than individually or with one or two companions.

Transportation-Safety Situation

Road Safety and Road Conditions

Travel by road is dangerous. Transportation is a major problem in a city of 15 million inhabitants and some of the largest slum areas in the world. Road direction changes twice a day to accommodate vehicles during rush hours. Traveling at night is particularly hazardous. Assume that other drivers will not respond to a traffic situation in the same way you would in the U.S. Road rage is common. Traffic moves on the left. Buses and trucks often run red lights and merge directly into traffic at yield points and traffic circles. Cars, auto-rickshaws, bicycles, and pedestrians behave only slightly more cautiously. It is both customary and wise to use the horn or flash headlights frequently to announce your presence. Driving in Kolkata can be highly stressful/difficult for most foreigners. To self-drive, you must have either a valid Indian driver’s license or a valid international driver’s license. Driving defensively is the best course of action. It is not recommended to drive in rural areas after dark. For more information on self-driving, please review OSAC’s Report “Driving Overseas: Best Practices.” It is recommended that travelers hire a professional driver when visiting the region.

Be alert while crossing streets and intersections, even in marked pedestrian areas and especially after dark, as traffic is coming in an unexpected direction. Protective equipment and helmets should always be worn on motorcycles and bicycles.

Outside major cities, roads are often poorly maintained and congested. Even main roads frequently have only two lanes, with poor visibility and inadequate warning markers. On the few divided highways, one can expect to see vehicles traveling in the wrong direction, often without lights. Heavy traffic is normal and includes (but is not limited to): overloaded trucks/buses, scooters, pedestrians, animal carts, bicycles, and free-roaming livestock.

Traffic accidents, major and minor, are a regular occurrence. Emergency response capabilities are limited. If a driver hits a pedestrian or a cow, the vehicle and its occupants are at risk of being attacked by angry mobs. This poses significant risk of injury or death to the vehicle's occupants or at least of impounding of the vehicle. If it is unsafe to remain at the scene of an accident, try to reach the nearest police station.

Protestors often use road blocks as a means of publicizing their grievances, causing severe inconvenience to travelers. Visitors should monitor local news reports for any reports of road disturbances.

Public Transportation Conditions

Buses and trams are overcrowded and poorly maintained.

Buses, patronized by millions of Indians, serve almost every city. However, they are usually driven fast, recklessly, and without consideration for the rules of the road. Accidents are quite common. Crime is covert and involves pickpocketing on public buses.

Train accidents occur more frequently than in other countries, especially at night. Theft aboard trains along popular tourists' routes is common. Criminals can drug food/drink offered to passengers. Where possible, lock your compartment. If you must sleep, position your luggage so that you are awakened if someone attempts to tamper with it. Alert authorities if you feel threatened. Extra police are often assigned to ride trains on routes where crime is a serious problem.

Travelers are strongly advised to use metered taxis or hotel vehicles. Try to use pre-paid taxi booths. If a metered taxi is not used, travelers should agree on the fare prior to embarking. Only take taxis clearly identified with official markings, and beware of unmarked cabs. It is preferable to obtain taxis from hotels rather than hailing them on the street. Seat belts are not common in taxis; if possible, select a vehicle with seat belts and ask the driver to maintain a safe speed. Never take the advice of taxi drivers regarding your stay or tourism.

Aviation/Airport Conditions

Crime is not common in the airport due to the strong police presence. Caution should be used when taking public transportation from the airport. Never accept rides from individuals claiming to be taxis. Reputable hotels will arrange for airport pickup/delivery. If public transportation is going to be used, it is best to utilize the pre-paid taxi service from the authorized taxi stand located just prior to exiting the airport near exit 4A and 4B.   

On leaving the airport building, passengers should be prepared for large crowds and a chaotic atmosphere, ideal for pickpockets. Passengers are also cautioned when coming out of the airport to stay away from anyone offering cheap residential accommodation/transportation.

Other Travel Conditions

India offers opportunities for observation of wildlife in Assam and West Bengal, and many tour operators and lodges advertise structured, safe excursions into parks and other wildlife viewing areas for close observation of flora and fauna. Safety standards and training vary, and it is a good idea to ascertain whether operators are trained and licensed.

Terrorism Threat

THE U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE HAS ASSESSED KOLKATA AS BEING A HIGH-THREAT LOCATION FOR TERRORIST ACTIVITY DIRECTED AT OR AFFECTING OFFICIAL U.S. GOVERNMENT INTERESTS.

Local, Regional, and International Terrorism Threats/Concerns

Terror attacks are a serious threat to U.S. citizens. Because the locations of the attacks included hotels, trains/stations, markets, cinemas, mosques, and restaurants in large urban areas, it is difficult to modify one's behavior to lessen the growing risk. Attacks have taken place during all hours, in markets and other crowded places, and can occur at any time.

The U.S. government continues to receive information that terrorist groups are planning attacks throughout the Kolkata Consular District and India as a whole.

Incidents of violence (bombings of buses, trains, markets) by ethnic insurgent groups are common in parts of Assam, Manipur, and Meghalaya. While insurgents have not specifically targeted U.S. citizens, there is a risk visitors could become unintended victims. Security laws are in force, and the central government has deployed security personnel.

Anti-American/Anti-Western Sentiment

Coordinated attacks in Mumbai in November 2008 and July 2011 targeted areas frequented by Westerners, highlighting the risk of U.S. citizens becoming victims of terrorism in India. Anti-Western terrorist groups and Islamist extremist groups (Harakat ul-Mujahidin, Jaish-e-Mohammed, Lashkar-e-Tayyiba, Harkat-ul-Jihad-i-Islami) are active in the Kolkata Consular District.

Political, Economic, Religious, and Ethnic Violence

THE U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE HAS ASSESSED KOLKATA AS BEING A MEDIUM-THREAT LOCATION FOR POLITICAL VIOLENCE DIRECTED AT OR AFFECTING OFFICIAL U.S. GOVERNMENT INTERESTS.

Civil Unrest

Demonstrations can occur spontaneously and escalate rapidly, posing risks to travelers' personal safety and disrupting transportation systems and city services. Authorities occasionally impose curfews and/or restrict travel. Political rallies and demonstrations have the potential for violence, especially immediately preceding and following elections. Americans are encouraged to heed travel advisories and avoid political demonstrations. While most political demonstrations have been peaceful and orderly, damage of public municipal transportation is common during bandhs (general strikes), which usually call for the total shutdown of all services for some period (usually for a day).

Religious/Ethnic Violence

Tensions between castes and religious groups can result in disruptions and violence. The Gorkhaland statehood movement in the most northern district of Darjeeling is a political movement for the creation of a new state primarily along ethnic lines. Road blockages and disruptions to public transportation have been more frequent than in other areas in the region, and there is a heightened potential for civil unrest that affects travelers. American citizens should monitor local television, print media, or utilize the U.S. Embassy or the nearest U.S. Consulate social media tools for further information about unstable situations.

Post-specific Concerns

Environmental Hazards

Northeastern India is highly susceptible to earthquakes.

  • In January 2016, a 6.7 earthquake struck Imphal in Manipur state. At least 11 people were killed, 200 others were injured, and numerous buildings were damaged.
  • In April 2015, an 8.1 earthquake hit Nepal (which has been called the worst natural disaster since the 1934 Nepal-Bihar earthquake) and seriously affected northeast India, specifically causing serious damage in Sikkim and Darjeeling). 
  • In February 2011, a 6.4 earthquake hit in Manipur.
  • A 6.9 earthquake struck Sikkim in September 2011.

The latter two quakes were felt in Kolkata and cause serious concern for future events. 

During the June-September monsoon season, Kolkata receives heavy rainfall, overwhelming the underground sewage and drainage system. There is a history of major flooding in the states of Assam and West Bengal during this period. You should exercise caution if you intend to swim in open waters along the coastline, particularly during the monsoon season. Trained lifeguards are rare along the beaches, and the surf can be turbulent. Heed warnings posted or advised at beaches and avoid swimming in the ocean during the monsoon season.

Even animals marketed as tame should be respected as wild and extremely dangerous. Keep a safe distance from animals, remaining in vehicles or other protected enclosures when visiting game parks.

Critical Infrastructure

There have been occasional industrial accidents in Kolkata.

Economic Concerns

India has long been in disagreement with other industrialized nations over intellectual property rights. Police view these crimes as a low priority, and there is an abundance of software and music piracy. Do not buy counterfeit and pirated goods. Not only are bootlegs illegal in the U.S., you may be breaking local law. Licensing policies favor the country’s generic drug manufacturers. 

On November 8, 2016, the Indian government announced an immediate ban on the 500 Rupees (INR) and 1,000 INR notes. All remaining 500 INR and 1,000 INR were required to be deposited in bank accounts before December 30, 2016. In 2017, the old 500 INR and 1,000 INR notes became worthless. Travelers must ensure they do not receive any of the old notes. In a largely cash economy, shortages of cash, especially in the countryside, have been reported. Withdrawal limits at banks and ATMs are determined by the Indian government and are subject to change.

Privacy Concerns

India’s Constitution does not guarantee a right to privacy for foreigners or Indian citizens. Traveler’s should be wary of using free wi-fi and should assume all electronic media communications are monitored.

Personal Identity Concerns

Women have been targeted for sexual harassment/assaults in Kolkata. Women are cautioned not to travel alone. Women should observe stringent security precautions (avoiding public transport after dark without the company of known and trustworthy companions, restricting evening entertainment to well-known venues, and avoiding walking in isolated areas alone). Women should also ensure their hotel room numbers remain confidential and insist doors have chains, deadlocks, and spy holes. It is advisable for women to hire reliable cars and drivers and avoid traveling alone in hired taxis, especially during the hours of darkness. For more information, please review OSAC’s Report “Travelers’ Guide to Indian Transportation Security.”

Drug-related Crimes

There has been an uptick in the amount of illegal drugs transiting India. The use of club drugs is on the rise. Most of the drugs that are illegal in the U.S. are also illegal in India, although some drug laws are stricter than those in the U.S. Officials conduct major anti-drug operations especially at transportation hubs. Plain-clothed narcotics officers frequent clubs and hotels to apprehend drug users and dealers.

Kidnapping Threat

Tourists whose first language is not English have been targeted for express kidnappings, where travelers are befriended by locals who speak their native language and then are held for days while the perpetrators empty the victim’s bank account. There are reports that some women were held for weeks and allegedly repeatedly raped.

Police Response

The Kolkata Police Department and local police throughout northeast India are a professional police force; however, training and equipment may not be up to the same standard as in the U.S. Police typically are limited in their ability to respond to emergencies due to the lack of transportation and communications systems. Calls for service often take 30 minutes or longer at best. Even when a suspect is arrested, it may take several years for a case to be heard in court.

How to Handle Incidents of Police Detention or Harassment

In case of police detention or harassment, contact Consulate Kolkata at +91-33-3984-2400 and ask for American Citizen Services (ACS). If you are arrested, you have a right to notify, or have officials notify, the nearest Embassy/Consulate. Insist on this right since it is often overlooked. The Embassy/Consulates can provide information on lawyers, the local justice system, can visit you on a regular basis, and can serve as a liaison with parties approved by you.

Crime Victim Assistance

The emergency line is 100.

If you or someone you know becomes the victim of a crime abroad, you should contact the local police and the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate. For violent crimes, the Consulate can help you find appropriate medical care, contact family/friends, or help them send you money if you need it. The Consulate General can assist you with understanding local police procedures. If your passport is stolen, the nearest U.S. Consulate can help you replace it. You should immediately report the theft/loss to the police where your passport was stolen.

Local authorities generally are unable to take any meaningful action without the filing of a police report. A First Information Report (police report) is required by the Indian government to obtain an exit visa. The Indian Ministry of Home Affairs and the Foreigners Regional Registration Office (FRRO) are responsible for approving an exit visa, and this process can take three to four working days. If you are a victim of crime, you need to obtain a FIR from local police at the time of reporting the incident. A copy of this report is helpful for insurance purposes in replacing lost valuables.

Medical Emergencies

For medical emergencies, the number for ambulance service is 102 and for fire service is 101. Ambulances are not equipped with state-of-the-art medical equipment. Local traffic does not yield to emergency vehicles. It is often more timely to proceed to the hospital using private transportation than to wait for an ambulance.

The quality of medical care varies considerably. Medical care is available in the major population centers that approaches and occasionally meets Western standards, but adequate medical care is usually very limited or unavailable in rural areas.

Medical tourism is a rapidly growing industry. Companies offering vacation packages bundled with medical consultations and financing options provide direct-to-consumer advertising over the Internet. Such medical packages often claim to provide high quality care, but the quality of health care is highly variable. People seeking health care should understand that medical systems operate differently from those in the U.S. and are not subject to the same rules and regulations. Anyone interested in traveling for medical purposes should consult with their local physician before traveling and refer to the information from CDC. For more information, please refer to OSAC’s Report, “Medical Tourism Surging.”

Contact Information for Available Medical Services

A list of local doctors and hospitals can be found on the U.S. Consulate Kolkata’s website.

Available Air Ambulance Services

Two air ambulance companies operate in the Kolkata Consular District:

International SOS: https://www.internationalsos.com/

Europ Assistance: http://www.europ-assistance.com/en

Country-specific Vaccination and Health Guidance

Altitudes in popular trekking spots can be as high as 25,170 feet (7,672 m); ensure that you you are fit to trek and cycle at these altitudes. For more information, please refer to OSAC’s Report “Traveling in High Altitude.”

The WHO and CDC websites contain detailed country-specific health information for travelers. These websites provide useful information, such as suggested vaccinations for visitors to India, safe food/water precautions, appropriate measures to avoid contraction of mosquito-borne diseases (malaria, Japanese B encephalitis), suggestions to avoid altitude sickness, etc. These sites provide information on disease outbreaks, including mosquito-borne viral diseases (dengue fever, chikungunya). For more information, please refer to OSAC’s Report, “I’m Drinking What in My Water?.”

The CDC offers additional information on vaccines and health guidance for India.

OSAC Country Council Information

U.S. Consulate Kolkata has an active OSAC chapter that meets intermittently. Please contact OSAC’s South and Central Asia team with any questions or to join. You may also email the Regional Security Office or by telephone: +91-33- 3984-2400.

U.S. Consulate Location and Contact Information

Consulate Address and Hours of Operation

The U.S. Consulate General in Kolkata is located at 5/1 Ho Chi Minh Sarani, Kolkata, 700071 and is open to American Citizen Services Mon-Fri, 0800-1700.

Consulate Contact Numbers

Tel: +91-33-3984-2400
Fax: +91-33-2282-2335.
Website: http://kolkata.usconsulate.gov

Nearby Posts

Embassy New Delhi: http://newdelhi.usembassy.gov/
Consulate Chennai: http://chennai.usconsulate.gov/
Consulate Hyderabad: http://hyderabad.usconsulate.gov/
Consulate Mumbai: http://mumbai.usconsulate.gov
Virtual Presence Post Bangalore: http://bangalore.usvpp.gov/

Consulate Guidance

American citizens register in the State Department’s Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) in order to receive information from the U.S. Consulate in event of an emergency.

Additional Resources

India Country Information Sheet