WITH TERROR threat looming over the metropolis, the Mumbai Police is training Anti Terror Cell (ATC) units at its 91 police stations, with a two-fold purpose of gathering intelligence and foiling any attacks, and in the eventuality of a terror strike, being the first to get workable leads to help the Mumbai Police get breakthroughs.
ATC units comprising three to four police officials at every police station was traditionally assigned with the task of keeping a watch on anti-social elements, probe missing complaints to ascertain if people have joined any terror group, maintain a record of suspicious organisations operating in their jurisdiction and have a sizeable informant network. However, bogged down by demands of maintaining law and order in their areas, these officials are pressed into bandobast or patrol duties and their main profile is put on the backburner.
But incumbent Mumbai Police chief D D Padsalgikar wants this to change. The former Special Director, Intelligence is revamping ATCs to make them at par with sleuths of Anti Terrorism Squad (ATS), the counter-terrorism agency of the state.
“The purpose behind overhauling of ATCs is to improve them. We are not competing with ATS but the idea is that the two agencies should work in tandem and in case of any eventuality we are able to share intelligence that will help us take a crack at the case. Better still, the two can bust a module before they are successful in executing their plans,” said a senior official privy to the development.
So now, ATC officials are only assigned with the task of gathering information pertaining to terrorist activities and maintaining a database on suspicious people and outfits. “Now, our duties are well-defined and is limited to assimilating information pertaining to suspicious people and their activities. Some organisations in the garb of helping or providing legal aide to people actually propagate terror, we keep a close eye on these outfits and maintain a database on their members, their fundings and people who frequent such places,” said an ATC official who spoke on the condition of anonymity.
Officials attached to ATCs say they started reading a lot on terror outfits especially material available on the globally banned Islamic State (IS).
“IS is a major concern and a youth getting attracted to its fold is an uncomfortable reality of today. In order to deal with it, it is necessary to understand how a teenager or a youth is brainwashed into the IS fold. A more humane and sensitive approach is required to deal with youths swayed towards the ideology,” said another official.
“When you are talking to a fencesitter, you cannot talk to him/her in the capacity of a police officer but have to patiently hear him/her out and try to give them a rational answer that would convince him/her that what they were drawn to was a propaganda,” the official added.
“One of the most routine exercises by all ATCs is to study missing complaints registered at the police station and find if the youth showed any change in behaviour or conduct before going missing,” added the official.
While officials from ATCs are kept away from law and order duties, a massive festive season means sometimes they would be pressed in. “Due to staff crunch, sometimes we might be called in but this is very rare now… “ added the official.