26/11 lessons at Cama hospital: 87 CCTVs, 70 guards keep vigil

Over 150 patients had come under attack when armed with AK-47 rifles, Pakistani terrorists Mohamed Ajmal Amir Kasab and Abu Ismail Khan had stormed through the six floors of the hospital building.

November 22, 2018 12:01:49 pm

At eight feet, its boundary wall is much higher than before. Over 87 closed circuit television (CCTV) cameras focus on corridors, wards and entry gates, and security force has been stepped up. The 367-bed Cama and Albless Hospital, known for gynaecology facilities, has learnt its lessons from the night of November 26, 2008.

Over 150 patients had come under attack when armed with AK-47 rifles, Pakistani terrorists Mohamed Ajmal Amir Kasab and Abu Ismail Khan had stormed through the six floors of the hospital building. The doctors and staff, including 15 nurses, had shown presence of mind — switching off lights, locking all ward doors, hiding most patients in washrooms, and conducting deliveries in astonishing silence — despite losing two security guards, Bhanu Narkar and Baban Walu, killed by the gunmen at the entrance. By the time seven police officers reached the hospital a little after 10 pm, the two terrorists had reached the fourth floor’s maternity ward of hospital, later moving to the terrace from where they exchanged fire with Mumbai police positioned on sixth floor.

The sixth floor housed a pathology laboratory and records room. In the 40-50 minutes of firing, Kasab and Khan had taken hostages, including doctors, at the terrace. They eventually fled, injuring several policemen after lobbing hand grenades. Since the attack, the entry to the terrace remains locked, along with the rear exit to the hospital, from where the terrorists had barged in. “The terrace has solar panels, the doors open only with permission from administration,” said staff nurse Laxmi Shridhar Shetty.

While no guard mans the rear exit, a special security room at the main entrance always has more than one guard, inquiring whenever they find “suspicious visitors” and guiding them to the administrative office. Since the attack, each ward also has a security guard at its entrance.

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In the decade since the attack, the memory of the attack has faded. “Perhaps we want to forget now,” said Shetty, now 43. She was in the paediatric ward on the third floor when the attack began. “Now every floor has two CCTV cameras. Earlier wards had grilled gates that were seldom locked. Now there is a guard who sits outside every ward. The grilled doors are locked at times. It is a more secured environment to work in,” Shetty said.

About two-and-a-half years ago, the security deployment was stepped up. “That’s also because doctors were regularly being assaulted in government hospitals,” said Dr Ameeta Joshi, medical superintendent at the hospital. The hospital currently has 58 guards from Maharashtra Security Force and 12 guards appointed by the state government. Two guards have been provided rifles and four have walkie-talkies.

On the night of November 26, 2008, the terrorists had used multiple hand grenades to flee from the terrace and outside of Cama hospital, injuring clerk Kailash Gegharmal. “Now we confiscate even a knife from patient’s relatives,” said head of security Navnath Sonawane.

Anjali Kulthe, staff nurse, was in the ante-natal ward when the firing was first heard in 2008. She remembers taking a pregnant woman to another floor where doctors waited to deliver in darkness. “We just have one regret, the nurses did not receive their due share of appreciation for what they did that night,” she said.

“So many staffers put their lives at stake to protect the patients,” said clerk Anil Mahadeshwar.