AT 6.30 pm on a weekday evening, Churchgate railway station is witness to the usual chaos, with commuters rushing to catch the first train home. In the bustle, door frame metal detectors (DFMD) installed at the entry and exit points near platform number 4 beep continuously.
A Railway Protection Force (RPF) official sitting next to the detectors claims, “Only if we find something suspicious do we stop the person and question him. In this rush, it is not practically possible to frisk each person on a daily basis.”
Eleven years ago on July 11, seven bombs exploded on the city’s local train network — Mumbai’s lifeline — within a gap of 11 minutes, killing 189 people and injuring 816. The explosions were so powerful that they ripped through the double-layered steel roofs and sides of the train compartments.
What they also did was serve as a wake-up call, leading to an overhaul of the suburban railway security system on the Central (CR) and Western Railway (WR).
“After the incident, all six divisions of the WR procured equipment under Bomb Detection and Disposal Squad (BDDS) to enhance security. This included bomb suits and tools to detect and defuse explosives. Training was given to officers to use the equipment,” said D B Kasar, then senior divisional security commissioner of RPF, WR.
Another measure, said Kasar, was increasing vigil at platforms under ‘Operation Eagle’, where 150 chosen RPF staff would patrol stations with seven dogs to aid them.
“The train bombings were meant to hit the creamy layer of the city, considering they were specifically placed inside first-class compartments of the trains. All of the trains were north-bound, which hinted at the attempt to target the maximum commuter rush. Taking cues from such observations, we designed the operation,” he said.
Fourteen teams were posted at six major railway stations on the WR — Churchgate, Dadar, Andheri, Mumbai Central, Bandra Terminus and Borivali — seven in each team would don bullet proof jackets and take positions at the stations after 5 pm every day. The other members would guard movement of trains between any two railway stations.
One of the RPF officials involved in the team said, “The evening hour would be the most crucial time of our duty. Taking lessons from 2006, we conducted routine checks of the trains at 4-4.30 pm before they departed from Churchgate station. We could sense panic among commuters then.”
In a bid to ensure no dumping of suspicious waste, dustbins had been removed from Churchgate station. But as littering grew, the move was criticised and corrected.
Two years after the incident, Mumbai was witness to 26/11 attacks, which saw open firing by terrorists at the Chhatarapati Shivaji Maharaj station. “Churchgate, by then, had DFMDs installed. One would never find any entry or exit point at any major railway station unguarded. Lessons learnt from the 2006 massacre prepared us for challenges ahead,” Kasar added.
In 2009, the Mumbai railway division felt the need to bring in an Integrated Security System (ISS) — a concept which allows airport-like security at railway stations. Access control, baggage checks and surveillance form major components of the system.
“Out of the many things proposed under ISS, boundary walls could never materialise due to lack of funds. We procured 946 cameras for six major CR stations in 2009. While the cameras, procured under specifications given then, do not allow facial recognition, we aim to procure 2,100 cameras fitted with advanced surveillance techniques,” Sachin Bhalode, Divisional Security Commissioner, CR, said.
Over the years, the railways brought in increased checks of mail express trains with the help of sniffer dogs, morchas at stations guarded with ammunition, commando companies and Quick Reaction Teams (QRT). Another change was a pro-active commuter approach.
“We receive a lot of complaints on a daily basis about unclaimed luggage. Pro-active commuters help us stay alert. Through WhatsApp groups, messages, and other online techniques, we have to address immediate security concerns in a gap of less than 10 minutes,” Bhalode added.
Certain problems continue to exist. Lack of enough personnel, absence of a permanent BDDS expert team for handling and maintaining the equipment and the failure to install ISS on the Western Railway are some areas that need to be addressed, officials said.
In a security audit conducted recently, increased surveillance by staff of both RPF and Government Railway Police (GRP) at major crucial points at railway stations was observed. Upgrading the equipment under BDDS, commando training of staff, increasing QRTS and 24X7 monitoring of the stations were among suggestions received.
“We are in the process of receiving three fixed baggage scanners at stations including Mumbai Central and Bandra Terminus, and two more portable ones. Another set of CCTV cameras are going to be in place at many major railway stations on the WR. We can claim that we have been able to achieve enough improvement and add layers of security as far as growth of staff in terms of training and approach is concerned,” a highly placed RPF official told The Indian Express.
What also remains a challenge is handling the rush commuters who often fail to understand the grave need for security checks, officials claim. “Initially, when DFMDs were installed, we were asked to rush with the process because people complained of getting late for their train. Sometimes, when we frisk a person, we are questioned about ‘profiling them’ for various reasons,” an official added.
“Through visible police presence and flash checks of all compartments, we are trying to introduce a pro-active approach towards safety, as compared to a reactive approach,” said Purushottam Karad, Deputy Commissioner of Police (DCP), GRP, Western Region.
“The chances of containing attacks by maintaining heightened vigil while identifying suspicious people or activities has increased over the past years. We conduct a background check of all food stall owners/labourers at stations. We are guided with inputs from other security forces too, including Anti Terrorism Squad and the city police,” Samadhan Pawar, Deputy Commissioner of Police (DCP), GRP, Central Region added.