SUNANDA MEHTA: In the wake of recent bomb explosion at Faraskhana police station, is the trust planning extra security arrangements around the Shrimant Dagdusheth temple, especially with the annual Ganesh festival round the corner?
The upcoming Ganesh festival will be the 122th in the series since the tradition began in Maharashtra, way back during pre- Independence days. The present Dagdusheth Ganesh temple had come into existence in 1984, and since then security has became a perennial issue in different magnitudes. After the 1993 Mumbai blasts, Maharashtra emerged as a target on the radar of international terrorism. The ATS (Anti-Terrorism Squad) often shares their intelligence inputs with us as do the government agencies on their security plans during festival season.
They also recommend certain measures that we follow diligently. We cannot disclose our security plans publicly for obvious reasons. However, we have installed 90 CCTV cameras from Lal Mahal to Rameshwar Chowk and in the by- lanes right up to the main road. The control units of these cameras have been placed in the main temple, Datta temple along with Zone-1 office of Pune police and two other police stations.
The coconut suppliers and other vendors sitting around the Ganesh temple attract a large number of devotees and pose a major challenge to security arrangements. In the past we had successfully foiled two untoward incidents planned by the anti-social elements.
We also carry out counselling of these vendors and ask them to maintain proper vigil. We have our security force of around 350 people. It may sound exaggerated, but around 2.5 crore to three crore devotees visit the Dagdusheth temple during the 240 hours of Ganesh festival spanning over 10 days. Along with the security agencies we take all possible safety measures for devotees and by the grace of Lord Ganesha, no untoward incident has happened till date.
Also, we have opted for an insurance policy of Rs 50 crore to offer a security cover to devotees. Those who have been injured in the recent Faraskhana blast will get the benefit of this policy. However, it is unfortunate that we are getting no cooperation from police in processing the insurance claims.
ANURADHA MASCARENHAS: What are the areas that need to be worked upon to ensure adequate security?
After recent blast at Faraskhana police station, we had a fresh round of talks with the Pune police Commissioner. The police department has drawn our attention to some weak areas. The police has advised us to put sirens in place to sent out alerts in case of any emergency. They have also asked for more strict checking of the devotees while entering the temple though we feel this will inconvenience the devotees.
The police have conducted mock-drills near our temple four to five times and we have caught all decoys that the police sent to check our security systems. But to be frank, we feel the police is relying only on after-measures. What is the use of it? They should focus their efforts on preventive steps. As far as the Faraskhana incident is concerned, our CCTV cameras were not covering that area. We did not sense any need of it since we thought the police were competent enough to keep vigil in their own area.
It is pertinent to mention that the electronic surveillance system, which we donated to Faraskhana police station, is not being utilised and is being used instead for viewing cable TV by police staffers.
ANURADHA MASCARENHAS: What are your grievances against the police and the government?
Whatever police and other security agencies asked us to do to improve vigilance, we did it religiously. After the Germany Bakery blast and JM Road explosions, the government had made several announcements for security arrangements in the city. I do not want go into what happened to those announcements in reality. Our trust was first to donate Rs 10 lakh for buying CCTV cameras for the city.
Those worked for a few days and since then have been lying defunct over an issue of bill payment. After terror attacks in Pune, every major establishment was told to install CCTV cameras and device scanners but barring us, no else did what was asked by the police.The Dagudusheth Ganesh temple has given our city an identity world-over.
Tourists from across the country and different parts of the world visit it. We are putting in our best measures to cooperate with the police but it does not mean that responsibility lies only with us.
AJAY KHAPE: Do you think security is still an issue?
Yes, very much and police should realise their responsibility more in addressing our concerns. The insufficient place for ‘darshan’ lane is a big issue before us. The present ‘darshan’ route is not proper. Our long-pending demand is that the government should hand over the area of the Faraskhana police station to us. In return, we are ready to develop an alternate place for the police station on BOT basis.
We will relocate the police station at our our expense. A multi-storey darshan arrangements can be made for 60 to 70 thousand devotees if we get the police station land. We have already submitted a proposal to this effect but so far the government departments have maintained silence on the issue.
CHANDAN HAYGUNDE: What immediate measures need to be taken?
The government system should help us in all possible ways. There is a public urinal located very near to the temple and it should be removed at the earliest. It can be used as place for planting bombs. We had such experience in the past. Also, street vendors should be banned from setting up their shops within 100 meters from the temple.
ATIKH RASHID: How has the administration responded to these demands?
They said the urinal cannot be removed unless a new one is built.
PRASAD JOSHI: Don’t you think the ‘one ward-one Ganpati’ concept during annual Ganesh festival is need of the hour?
The concept is being discussed since long and implemented at some places in the the state. To be honest, political forces have a major role in the formation of Ganesh mandals. Several mandals are backed by individuals having political aspirations. This in turn gives birth to competition. No law can be framed to put a curb on the number of mandals. Ganesh festival has a long-standing tradition, and mandals need counselling about religious and social importance of the festival.
At our level, we have initiated several reforms and trends to make the festival more meaningful. We have set certain code of conduct for ourselves, which is gradually followed by other mandals.
ATIKH RASHID: Do you witness any change in annual Ganesh festival in Pune over the past few years?
During last five-years or so, Ganesh mandals are having a lot of confrontation with the police and other law enforcement agencies. Many restrictions have come in place for the mandals regarding timing and use of venues. The immersion procession has also undergone a change. The use of ‘gulal’ during immersion processions is thing of past. We have taken several steps to change the Ganesh festival into a positive endeavor and in turn won the trust of more and more people.
GARIMA MISHRA – What is theme of the temple decoration this year?
This year, we are making a replica of Kailasa temple from world-famous Ellora temple located in Aurangabad.