By: Srinath Rao, Rohit Alok & Megha Sood
Nearly a month after more than 130 students were killed by assault rifle-wielding terrorists in a school in Peshawar, Pakistan, the Mumbai police have undertaken a city-wide exercise to secure schools, colleges and other educational institutes.
To begin with, the police are visiting various schools armed with a 78-point advisory issued by the Ministry of Home Affairs. The guidelines include access control, camera cover, background verification of employees, perimeter security and restricted vehicular movement around schools. Zonal Deputy Commissioners of Police (DCPs) are personally monitoring the initiatives in their respective zones.
“Zonal DCPs have been instructed to review the schools in their respective jurisdictions and come up with strategies. Once we receive inputs from all the zones, we will pick out the best ones and will prepare a comprehensive strategy based on them,” said Mumbai Police Commissioner Rakesh Maria.
In the Mulund-Ghatkopar belt, the police have started working on strengthening their human intelligence as a preemptive measure. “The anti-terror cells in each police station have been tasked with increasing their eyes and ears on the ground, particularly in areas like slums and chawls where a suspicious person can get a room on rent without any questions being asked,” said DCP Vinay Rathod, Zone VII.
The police in zones XI and XII, which comprise the northern suburbs of the city, have relaxed the arms licence criteria for schools and educational institutions. “We have been asked to treat the educational institutions as vital installations. However, we have made it clear that the licences would not be given in the names of individuals running the institutes,” said DCP ( Zone XI) Balsing Rajput.
Since December 18 last year, the police have collected maps and evacuation plans of all schools, so that contingency plans can be drawn up accordingly and regular drills have been conducted to famliarise the police with the layout of the schools.
DCP ( Zone III) S Jayakumar said school officials have also been advised to shelter students in a way that that they would not be caught in crossfire. “We cannot have a safe house within a school due to the sheer number of students at each school. There should be enough time for students and staff to be evacuated in times of crisis,” he said.
DCP, Zone V (Kurla-Mahim-Dadar), Mahesh Patil said the police in his zone had deliberately refrained from actively involving students in their exercises. “Some of the students are very young and we would not want cause any unnecessary alarm among them,” Patil said.
An official with a well-known school in central Mumbai said the school had appointed staff members as point persons for liaising with the police in times of crisis. “The school has a plan where a staff member is appointed as manager, with many teachers under him. Each floor has a Floor Marshall who keeps a tab on the number of children being evacuated while cross checking the head count with the number of students present in each class,” the official said.
A security official at Campion School in Cooperage said the school had also begun securing BMC playground adjacent to the school. “We are manning it round the clock.”
Ambarsingh Magar, principal of BMC secondary school in Colaba, added, “A police constable visits daily to examine the guest register.”
— inputs by Gautam S Mengle