The saga of the cellular phone records from 2002 being able to provide the location of callers with reference to the Gujarat riots gets curioser and curioser. Offstumped has dug into how and when these records surfaced into the public domain.

The first reference to Cellular Phone Records in the media comes in a plea by Mr. Mukul Sinha on 16th Aug 2004. The Times of India carried this story with the below comment

Jan Sangharsh Manch has moved an application before the Nanavati-Shah Commission seeking details of the phone calls chief minister Narendra Modi and other ministers made during the Gujarat riots.

The issue first came up during the cross-examination of Spl IG V V Rabari recently, when the commission had allowed furnishing of all such records that could have a bearing on any of the events between February 27 and May 31, 2002

Notice there is no reference to the CD containing phone records nor any reference to the ability to determine the location of callers from the cellular phone records.

 The first time we hear of cellular phone records and the 2 CDs is in November of 2004 when a young journalist Stavan Desai for the Indian Express breaks a 6 part story. The interesting thing is the Indian Express does not reveal from where it obtained the CDs containing the 5 lakh phone records. Now the bulk of the 6 part investigation is about who called who when. Assuming the CDs were authentic and the call records were not tampered with there is not much to dispute on the sequence of calls.

However what should stump everyone is how a 27 year journalist with no background or training in analyzing GSM Call Detail Records could not just infer who called whom but also draw conclusions on the location of the callers. Here is the puzzling piece in this Indian Express investigation

Using cellphone tower locations, the data also gives information on the physical location of the caller and the person at the other end.

How could a mere journalist interpret the CDRs to infer tower identifiers ,and then map them to their geo-locations and then cross reference them with a geographical coverage map for the cellular sites corresponding to each tower from 3 years back to draw accurate conclusions on whether someone moved from location X to location Y within a span of as little as 5 minutes.  

VHP Leader Jaideep Patel entered Naroda, leaves for Bapunagar area, reaches Bapunagar area and then returns to Naroda and then returns to Bapunagar area.

Naroda MLA Maya Kodnani leaves for Gandhinagar, returns from Gandhinagar, heads to Sola Civil Hospital, leaves the hospital, heads for Naroda, reaches Naroda, leaves Naroda, heads for Shahibaug

PB Gondia DCP reaches Naroda, in Thakkarnagar, moves to Naroda, in Meghaninagar, returns to Naroda, back in Meghaninagar again returns to Naroda, back and forth multiple times then heads for Revdi Bazaar, again Meghaninagar, again in Naroda.

 – PC Pande, Police Commissioner left for Gandhinagar, is his half-way en-route, returns from Gandhinagar, on his way to Sola Civil Hospital, reaches Meghaninagar

MK Tandon, ACP leaves the commissionerate and goes to Revdi Bazaar, goes to the New Cloth Market, heads towards Bapunagar and Naroda areas, in the Rakhial area, reaches Meghaninagar, leaves Meghaninagar area, reaches the Naroda area, travelling through Bapunagar, Rakhial and reaches Relief Road , remains in the Relief Road and Revdi Bazaar areas, reaches the police commissionerate, reaches the Meghaninagar area (Gulbarg Society), visits the Naroda area and leaves 

Why is this location tracking incredible ?

Well consider these facts. The Call Detail Records were 3 years old by the time this investigation happened in Nov of 2004.

During this 3 year period 

– not only were more Cellular Service Providers like BSNL entered Gujarat but also new services like GPRS were introduced in 2002

– the number of subscribers in Gujarat hit the 1million mark  by March 2003 resulting in network changes

– In Feb of 2004 Hutch announces it is adding 300 new cellsites to the 650 odd existing cell sites in Gujarat

This means the Cellular Network in Gujarat in 2004 was dramatically different from what it was in 2002. This also means the geographical coverage for cell-sites and cell towers must have been quite different from what it was in 2002.

So the question is how was this analysis of Call Records done in 2004 to infer what the coverage  for individual cell-sites and cell twoers was back in 2002 to accurately conclude whether one was leaving for a road, entering a hospital or shuttling between 2 locations in a span of 5 minutes ?

Now Stavan Desai goes on to win the 7th Polestar Award for Breaking News in 2004 but we hear nothing about the science or rather psuedo-science that went into his investigation of cell tower signals and location of callers.

Neither Stavan Desai nor the Indian Express reveal the source of the scientific analysis nor is the deduction of location ever challenged, until of course Offstumped came along with this post and subsequently this challenge and these scientific facts.

While we dont expect much of Mukul Sinha and the JSM, perhaps Stavan Desai and the Indian Express should come clean and present their investigation to independent scientific scrutiny.

Offstumped is waiting ………

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