The only blemish on the horizon if you drive southward on the Bandra-Worli Sea Link and look to the left at the open sea is a shack on an outcrop of rock before land gives way to water. Nothing sets it apart from the average Mumbai tenement but for the khaki police shirts suspended on hangars from the low roof.
This is a coastal police outpost, one of the many that watch over Mumbai’s shores. The eight bamboo poles that hold the station upright and the aluminium sheets covering it were sourced with help from local fishermen, and the leftovers from the sea link’s construction provided stones to reinforce the structure.
And yet, the importance of their presence on this isolated patch of rock is not lost on the rotating daily roster of two policemen who spend 12 hours each here with a single Self-Loading Rifle and 50 bullets between them, their backs to the Arabian Sea.
“We’re going to be at the front of the firing line should there be a repeat of the November 2008 terror attack in Mumbai. The government should equip us. In the two years that I have been posted here, I have been hearing every few months that a permanent police station will be built, but nothing has happened. We’re doing our best from here,” said a policeman who, like his colleagues who have worked there, asked not to be identified.
The shack has been there since 2011 but it was only in 2013 that the state government announced its intention to establish a fully operational police station there. But over the last two years, the structure has collapsed on numerous occasions during each monsoon and been rebuilt again.
“In 2013, we were given a cloth tent to set up the station but it would blow away in the fierce wind and we would get drenched in the rain. We needed something permanent to stay in if we were going to secure the premises, so we decided to build the shack,” said another policeman.
As for other such outposts, the one at Badhwar park, the landing point for terrorists that day, comprises a lone bench and a few policemen. At Worli and Versova, two similar benches with an overhead shelter act as outposts.
All these are post-26/11 infrastructure for “live policing” away from stations. Police officials say that at vital points, armoured vehicles with policemen posted in shifts provide “first responder” surveillance. In Colaba, for instance, there’s a heavy patrol mechanism at the checkpost, strategically positioned near Gateway of India.
Officials say there are proposals to establish five “coastal police chowkies” across Mumbai but admit that the Bandra site is important because the Sea Link is one of the “most sensitive” locations in the city.
Back at the shack, with the nearest habitation half-a-kilometre away, the policemen are completely cut off and carry their own food, water and — for the night shift — mosquito repellent cream. Once sun dips, the only source of light is a solar power-fed bulb. “We need to have night vision binoculars to look out at the sea. Unless we hear it, we won’t know that there is a boat coming,” said a policeman.
Guidelines published by the Bureau of Police Research and Development in January 2015 recommend that the plinth area of a police station accommodating up to 10 police personnel should measure 135 square-metres.
When contacted, Kiran Kumar Chavan, Deputy Commissioner of Police, Port Zone, said that a proposal to construct a permanent building here is being considered.
“Policemen posted at Bandra built the temporary structure to protect themselves because it is an isolated place and also because it serves as a landing point for our patrol boats,” Chavan told The Indian Express.
There are indications that a permanent station may come up here soon, with policemen saying that surveyors have begun measuring sites for a concrete structure.
“In the past two months, they have been coming twice every week. They say that work will begin here in a month’s time. Come back here after a month and work will have begun,” said a policeman.
Until then, however, this police outpost will continue to watch over this stretch of coast from the middle of mountains of debris — the aftermath of the sea link — and waste. With this legend scribbled in chalk on the welcome stone at the entrance as “more of a reminder” to its own inhabitants: “Krupaya Parisar Svachha Theva. Mumbai Sagari Police (Please keep the surroundings clean. Mumbai Coastal Police).”