The base of Sion Hospital Flyover on the Eastern Express Highway proved to be an ideal spot for the police to detain MNS chief Raj Thackeray and his supporters on Wednesday as they made their way towards Vashi to lead the agitation against toll payment. Senior officials in Mantralaya and police confirmed that Thackeray had agreed to a detention en route after days of negotiations with the state government.
A political gimmickry, the city police could not afford to have law-and-order situation as the state board, among other institutions, had given a written appeal to curb such protests and keep the roads free as board exams are to begin soon.
Though they refused to go on record — officials confirmed that the detention was to be on the edge of city limits, just before his convoy was to move into the jurisdiction of New Mumbai Police.
The police said they chose the wide expanse of road at the base of the flyover to cause minimum disruption to traffic. The police maintained that it had no prior knowledge of the route that Thackeray would take to travel from his home in Shivaji Park to Vashi.
The convoy that left Thackeray’s home at 10 am included 25 cars and 150 two-wheelers, the police said. “We wanted to cause minimal disruption to the movement of traffic, so we began to clear and normalise traffic on the Eastern Express Highway from 7 am. We also ensured that other vehicles moved at least 50 feet away from the convoy, just in case there was stone-pelting,” said traffic police official.
Officers in the central region, where Thackeray was detained, said special bandobast had been placed on each possible route to Vashi. The police took pointers from earlier riots and protests by Raj Thackeray and chose personnel equipped to handle riots.
Officials had first decided to detain him around the Priyadarshini Park junction, across the Food Corporation Building and had placed specific patrols accordingly. Things changed by the hour.
“When Thackeray took the Express Highway, we chose to stop him on Sion Flyover, at the edge of our jurisdiction,” said Praveen Salunke, Additional Commissioner of Police, Central Region, adding that doing so allowed north-bound vehicular traffic to pass by using the other lanes.
“There would have been a traffic jam had we stopped the convoy on the flyover itself. But the base gave us more space,” he said.
Another traffic officer said, however, that a heavy blockade of police personnel had been placed at the base of the flyover at Highway Apartments to prevent Thackeray from breaking through. “We had to stop them there, otherwise they could have created trouble ahead. In the end, traffic stopped for just five minutes before resuming,” said a senior zonal officer at the spot.