In a week’s time, a very different police vehicle will take to the streets in Mumbai, dispensing not law and order but food and drink. The motor transport section of the Mumbai Police is currently modifying a van formerly used to transport prisoners from jails to courts that will now be used as a mobile canteen.
“The mobile canteen will take food to police personnel on bandobast duty across the city,” said Atul Patil, Additional Commissioner of Police, Motor Transport.
Patil, who heads the city police’s largest technical division, has a team at work stripping away the old van and refurbishing its interiors to include a small kitchen and tables to seat at least eight people at a time.
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“It won’t look anything like a police van when it is finished,” said one of the mechanics working on the project. While a flap will open up on one side where orders from hungry policemen and women will be taken, the wall on the other side will give way to two large windows. While most of the food will be supplied daily from the Mumbai Police’s canteens in Crawford Market and Worli, the rest will be cooked in the van.
The plan, eventually, is to roll out five mobile canteens, all repurposed internally at the motor transport section’s workshop in Nagpada. The department, which was established under the British rule, has earned a sturdy reputation for keeping the Mumbai Police’s fleet of more than 4,000 vehicles moving 24×7.
“We are the backstage actors without whom the main actors cannot work,” said Inspector Sanjay Jagdale. The section has repair vans on standby 24 hours a day to be dispatched to places where police vehicles break down. “It is impo
rtant for us to address the problem and fix it quickly,” he added.
Apart from its headquarters in Nagpada, the section’s workshops in Sewri, Tardeo, Worli, Santacruz and Ghatkopar tend to monthly maintenance, emergency repairs, in-house production, convoys for VIPs and VVIPs and requests from police forces and government agencies outside Mumbai and Maharashtra.
Some of these requests are specialised. For instance, Jagdale said, the section is the only manufacturer in the state of flag rods for cars of IAS and IPS officials, senior elected representatives, governors and presidents.
“Flag rods are customised for each vehicle. Placing them requires accurate measurements and cuttings on the bonnet. We are the only ones in the state who do that,” Jagdale said.
With a strength of 450 engineers, mechanics, electricians, painters, carpenters and tailors, the section is also able to prepare a convoy for visits of VIPs at a moment’s notice. “At the end of each convoy, we have a mechanic, an electrician and other technicians travelling in a car in case any of the cars break down. Thankfully, that hasn’t ever happened so far,” Jagdale said.
It is in a convoy that the motor transport section recently enjoyed its finest hour, displaying its newly acquired Royal Enfield Bullet patrol motorbikes for the visit of Prime Minister Narendra Modi to Mumbai last year. “We had ten motorbikes in pairs of five at the head of the convoy and each pair would branch off at each intersection. It was great to watch,” Patil said.
Soon after, they embarked on their most ambitious project yet – building 35 new prion transport vans from scratch to replace old ones. There was the choice of purchasing them, “but the process of tendering, selecting a vendor and acquisition would have taken too long. It was a lot more practical to build the vans ourselves,” said a senior officer.
Apart from making savings of several lakh rupees for the vehicles, Patil said it was also a test of the department’s capabilities. “We did everything ourselves and finished the vehicles in three months,” he said.