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Mumbai Police Control Room on 26/11 attack: Panicky, Confused, Rambling

A close analysis of these calls tells how police operators in charge of the control room betrayed panic.

tajhotelfire 26/11 Mumbai attacks. (IE Photo: Prashant Nadkar)

Of the stories about the 26/11 attacks in Mumbai, one has remained largely untold: the sense of panic in the Mumbai Police Control Room (PCR) when the phones started ringing, a panic so strong it threatened, at least for the first five hours, to overwhelm the police force’s response.

Part of that story can now be told. The Indian Express has obtained and authenticated 4,396 phone calls made to PCR running into 89 hours of conversations. These begin with the first one from a taxi driver outside Cafe Leopold close to 10 pm on November 26 until 11.42 pm on November 28, when a caller from Punjab asks if his relative’s name is on the morgue list.

embA close analysis of these calls tells the obvious story of a city gripped by fear and anger but, above all, the conversations show what’s not-so obvious: how police operators in charge of the control room betrayed panic, a surprising unawareness of the city’s urban geography and the absence of any training or standard operating procedure.

So in their first response to 100 calls, police operators call it a “gang war”, “routine firing” and “golibaari”. One police operator says, “Paanch minute main shaant ho jayega.” (It will all be over in five minutes)

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Informed of the hostage situation at Nariman House in the heart of Colaba Market, many PCR operators repeatedly mistake the location for Cafe Leopold, at least a kilometre away, telling callers that help has been sent.

At 10.40 pm, well into the attack, a fisherman calls from mid-sea to say he heard about firing in Oberoi Hotel but the operator says it’s not Oberoi but the Taj that’s under attack.

10 pm to 11 pm: ‘Law and order situation”

Twenty-nine minutes after the first body fell in Café Leopold, at 10.17 pm, the terrorists’ target is a building next to Rex Bakery in Colaba Market and this is reported by an eyewitness in a phone call.


But PCR assumes the caller is referring to Regal Cinema which is 1.5 km away. From the ledge of the fifth floor window, a terrorist lobs a hand grenade and by 11.08 pm, six callers have given specific information on this, including the fact that one armed man is on the fifth floor and that this could be a hostage situation.

At the end of each call, however, this doesn’t register with any PCR operator — all of them are heard relaying the information saying “don isam ahe” or that there are two men in the building adding none of the specific information from eyewitness accounts.

In the PCR, it’s past dinnertime. One woman operator is nursing a bad hiccup, another is heard enquiring about the India-England match. Over an hour into the attack, they evidently assume patrol vans are at the “spot” and fixing the “law and order situation”.


It will be at least 31 minutes before the PCR is even aware of the hostage crisis at Nariman House, where six people would die eventually. A police constable takes a call which says that a building occupied by “Israel log, Jew log” has been attacked, that there are sounds of firing that can be heard. The constable tells the caller that a wireless van is at the spot. He is wrong — having mistaken it for a spot near Café Leopold.

Then, a call from a building next to Leopold. A woman with a bullet injury has limped to an upper floor of Rahim Mansion and is screaming in pain. “Tee amhala help help mhanun karte… (she’s screaming help, help), but we don’t know .. she’s a Muslim, burke-vaali… we’re afraid to help,” the caller says. Another woman is lying in the building compound, still on the ground, groaning.

A little past 10.30 pm, residents from Mehta Building — right across Colaba Market, where Nariman House is — start calling to say that they can hear continuous firing. PCR doesn’t even ask for the location, just says a police vehicle has been sent.

Gunshots from Colaba Market echo inside the Control Room and one caller corrects the operator. This firing is not near Leopold but in a building he describes as “Israeli logon ka consulate”. One police operator is confused, his last caller had said a man’s body needs to be put into an ambulance from a hotel. He asks again: “Hotel Leopold na?”. The voice yells: “Israeli logon ka Consulate.”

Finally, it’s a woman caller who identifies the building correctly as Nariman House but the operator doesn’t catch it. As callers identify the place as a Jewish temple, others misreport that Jews are attacking the neighbourhood, one caller saying the attackers are probably Jews because they are “very very fair.”


More confusion spreads in the PCR, despite most callers knowing the target structure was occupied by Israelis. (In the debriefing after the attack, the police admitted they were not aware of the presence of Israelis in any building in Colaba.)

At 10.35 pm, somebody calls Nariman House the Chabad House, identifying for the first time the orthodox Chabad Jews who run what he calls a Jewish Sunday temple. With some difficulty, this is updated in the PCR logs.


While calls continue from Taj and Oberoi hotels now, with guests and staff dialling 100 from their cellphones, one caller says his friend took a gunshot inside Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus but PCR hasn’t heard of this. “It’s in Colaba limits,” a police constable says.

By 10.37 pm, as the gunmen in Nariman House continue firing, 14 seconds into a call that lasts 4.16 minutes, gunshots are clearly heard in the background. A woman constable, her hiccups still bothering her, confuses Nariman House for Nariman Point, even as she repeats Colaba Market, jumbling all the landmarks.


Her confusion throws light on a peculiar dilemma in the PCR: Mumbai is simply not a familiar city for these operators. One operator is later heard telling a caller he belongs to Jalna. Mumbai’s iconic landmarks Metro, Regal Cinema and others mean nothing to him. Another operator is heard telling another there’s none of this violence back home. “Gaaveet ashi naste. (it’s not like this in the village.)”

By 10.53 pm, two taxis are standing torn, in flames, surrounded by shocked crowds in Wadi Bunder and Vile Parle. Five people were killed in these explosions caused by bombs left behind by terrorists who had hailed these taxis and alighted at their targets. The PCR is under an avalanche of calls now, the phones ringing non-stop. Call after call seeks retaliatory police response or assistance.

The PCR is fumbling with geographical locations, unable to map the movement of the terrorists who left CST, or even correctly fathom the magnitude of the attack.

11 pm to 11:55 pm: ‘Police action chalu hai’

The worst mapped location through the first few hours of the attack remains Nariman House.

At least 92 calls have operators repeatedly noting landmarks and geographical terms such as ‘Paanch Payiri’, ‘near Camy Wafers’, ‘next to Merchant House’, ‘opposite Colaba Bakery”, ‘behind petrol pump’, ‘near Mehta Building’, ‘Rajvadkar Street’, ‘Colaba market’, ‘behind Shiv Sena office’, ‘4th Pasta Lane’ and more. But the PCR is unable to map this target.

The PCR also continues to display lack of initiative in picking up leads or mapping the location of hostages. When a caller from Hotel Trident whispers for help from the systems room of the Oberoi, he is given the standard “gaadi bheja hai” response.

As the minutes progress and confusion mounts, the PCR response shifts into an official, trained mode: “Police madat aa rahi hain” (help is on its way), “gaadi pahuchle ahe” (the vehicle has reached), “madat paathavli ahe” (help has been despatched), “force bheji hai, ek do minute mein ayegi” (the force has been despatched, it should in a minute or two), “sagli kade manoos pathavle ahe” (policemen have been sent everywhere), “ayegi ayegi police” (police will come) “action chalu hai sir”, “karvahi chalu hai sir” (police is working on it), “ahe tikde aamchi police” ( our policemen are there at the spot).

First published on: 23-12-2014 at 03:24 IST
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