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26/11 anniversary: Holes to plug before the city is safe

The paramilitary troops outside the Trident and Taj Mahal hotels suggest a higher level of security a year after terrorists laid siege to Mumbai,but it may all be a mirage as the city and the country as a whole still remains very vulnerable.

Written by Express News Service | Mumbai |
November 26, 2009 11:45:44 am

THE COAST

Too many monitors,not enough coordination

With no sign yet of the Centre’s promised apex maritime agency for coordinated coastal security,five state and central departments are monitoring Maharashtra’s 720-kilometre coastline,home to eight lakh fishermen in 382 villages. In addition,there is also a sixth unit,a joint patrol of the first five. The result is confusion.

After 26/11,the Navy and then the Coast Guard took up active surveillance along the coastal stretch. The other units on patrol are the state fisheries department,Maharashtra Maritime Board,Customs and the joint team.

Fishermen say there are so many units,each with its own set of rules to impose,that they are confused. They also complain of highhandedness of Naval and Coast Guard officials who,they say,often confiscate fishing and boat licences.

“Security has been enhanced and they don’t let us pass within 1.5 nautical miles of the ONGC platform (Bombay High),which is on one of our regular fishing routes. If a refinery stands in way of a national highway,will you change your route or just go around it?” said Ramdas Sandeh,president,Maharashtra State Fishermen’s Cooperative Federation. “They just give us notices and ask us to follow their policies. They arrest us and take our licences but give us no information on how to get those back.”

The Coast Guard and the Navy,along with other agencies,recently started a database of all fishing villages for better ground intelligence. Top Coast Guard and Naval officials have admitted that coastal surveillance cannot be foolproof without help from fishermen. The state has 11,823 registered mechanised boats and 8,228 registered non-mechanised ones. “The sea is vast and even if an unidentified vessel is spotted,it cannot be tracked always as it can go in any of four directions. Only local fishermen can inform us of any extra boats in their fishing areas,” said a Coast Guard official.

Another pending issue is smart identification cards. Mumbai has 38 fishing villages,30 considered active. Sandeh said fishermen applied one-and-a-half years ago,paying Rs 200 each,but most are yet to get cards. “And the Coast Guard and the Navy catch us for not having smart cards,” he said. “In the US,the Coast Guard is the main authority for issuing cards but here a private agency in Navi Mumbai is in charge. Police verification does take place but you cannot guarantee a foolproof system this way,” said Dilip Pagdhare,chairman,Mahim Macchmar Association.

Pagdhare said a Navy-Coast Guard committee,set up after 26/11,was to appoint guards among fishermen to act as contacts with security agencies,but that has not happened. Identification of fishermen societies to act as nodal bodies,too,is pending.

“The first stage of coastal security is going as planned. The second stage will begin in December. Seven new police stations will come up,” said P K Jain,principal secretary,Home.

Officials from the Commissioner of Fisheries were not available for comment. “Proper surveillance,identification and more surface units are a must. But constantly maintaining a foolproof system will require a lot of resources and we don’t know if it will be worth it,” said former Navy chief Admiral Jayant G Nadkarni. (by Smita Nair and Shashank Shekhar)

TRANSPORT & MULTIPLEXES

2 proposals await action

The Home Department has put on the back burner two vital security proposals. The proposal for an expert committee for security in public transport has been pending for six months; the Merani Committee report on safety in multiplexes has been awaiting action for 14 months.

The transport panel was planned after the 2006 serial train blasts,which claimed 180 lives,and the 2003 blasts in BEST buses at Mulund and Ghatkopar. The Urban Development Department had recommended that the Home Department set up the committee that would prepare rules for regulating access to bus stops and railway,Metro and monorail stations. It would also recommend surveillance systems and infrastructural features like police chowkys and illumination.

A Home official denied any such proposal is pending. “Security in trains will come under the railway’s jurisdiction. We are also in the process installing CCTV cameras in all buses,” said the official.

The report on multiplex safety lists out life-threatening violations in the 33 multiplexes in Mumbai,suggests structural remedies for multiplexes and recommends rules to be enforced by the municipal corporation,and the fire and police departments. The report was placed in August last year.

“We had formed a sub-committee to ensure CCTV cameras are installed at all multiplexes and the Joint Commissioner of Police (Law and Order) is working on it with the IT secretary,” said Chandra Iyengar,additional chief secretary (Home).

However the department is yet to work out an amendment to the Bombay Cinema Rules without which the Merani Committee report cannot be enforced.

“We will soon put up a note before the Cabinet on the committee report. All recommendations,including one that states the police should stop issuing permission to multiplexes flouting norms,can be enforced after cabinet approval,” said Medha Gadgil,principal secretary,Home (Appeals & Security). (by Shalini Nair)

THE RAILWAY STATION

Commuters lend eyes and ears for My Mumbai

When Ajmal Kasab and Abu Ismail entered the sprawling Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus and started shooting at random,killing 58,the common Mumbaikar was left wondering if he or she could have stopped the bloodbath somehow.

They can,feel around 250 Mumbaikars who spend between one and three hours on trains everyday,They have formed My Mumbai Brigade to act as informers for the Government Railway Police if they see anything suspicious on the 90-km route of Central Railway.

“After the attack we were angry and wanted to contribute in some way. Since we commute daily,we thought of offering the police and the railways our help in security,” says Shashikant Deshmukh who works at Mazgaon dock and lives in Panvel.

The idea came after a group of regular commuters met the GRP and said they wanted to help. “The common man isn’t alert. A man like Kasab should ideally have been stopped right at Macchimar Colony,but he walked into our city and killed people,” says retired serviceman Bajirao Thokal,one of the founders of the group. “Terrorists are outsiders and don’t have our understanding of the city. Someone obviously gave him information on the locations. If we are alert and find a suspicious person doing a recce we can alert the police immediately.”

Another group to help the railways,Railway Pravasi Mitra,hardly meets and has become almost defunct,members admitted.

Around 80 per cent of Mumbaikars travel on trains and the need for a watchdog was felt after the 7/11 train blasts,the 2004 attacks in Ghatkopar,Mulund and Vile Parle,and the 26/11 attack on CST. “Almost the same people travel in the same train everyday. The public has lakhs of eyes and ears and we can definitely alert the police,” said Uttam Sable.

My Mumbai Brigade’s 250 members meet regularly and take the GRP’s guidance on security. The GRP offers outside support with information on the duties of the railway police and the railway administration and contact details.

Members discuss the group with friends and colleagues and hope it can grow. “We encourage only those who can commit themselves,not strangers. New members must know someone already in the group,” said Sadashiv Malgaonkar.

Members said they want to expand across Western and Harbour Railway too. Once there are enough,batches will be formed for first aid and self-defence,with each member getting a photo ID card and a sport cap with the MMB logo. (Shweta Desai)

THE HARBOUR

Still waiting for CISF to take over,Port Trust works alone

Security at the harbour is yet to come under the unified command of the Central Industrial Security Force (CISF). It has been delayed by a year,because of red tape in central agencies and lack of logistical preparedness.

The Mumbai Port Trust (MbPT),however,has initiated several measures. Security is currently handled by the MbPT staff,the police and Customs. After 26/11,security was raised to level three,the highest under the International Ship and Port Facility Security (ISPS) Code of the International Maritime Organisation (IMO). The CCTV system was revamped and entry-exit points reduced.

The CISF handles the security of all other major ports and it was decided that it would take over Mumbai Port from March 2009. The induction has been delayed by the absence of sanction from various Central departments.

The proposal is finally through and the MbPT is making arrangements for 526 CISF personnel at Hay Bunder and Nadkarni Park,Wadala. MbPT chief security officer R N Shaikh said,“We expect that by March 2010,the CISF will take over the security system.”

It would be in phases; in the first phase,Jawhar Dweep and Pir Pau island (that handle bulk and oil cargoes) would be handed over. The CISF would subsequently move to the docks. The MbPT will spend about Rs 14 crore on the salaries of CISF personnel and about Rs 3 crore on their equipment and logistics annually.

“We have closed down several gates for vehicular traffic to control access to the port. Now we have the Orange Gate of Princess Dock for truck traffic and the Yellow Gate of Indira Dock for passenger vehicles,” Shaikh said. In the past,private cars would trespass,using the dock area to avoid traffic on arterial roads.

“Now we have a quick response team and a better network of CCTVs,” he said,“We plan to procure four boats,including a speedboat. Our launches and tugs carry armed policemen. We are also replacing our vessel traffic management system with a state-of-the-art system at about Rs 23 crore. It will help us monitor the movement of even small boats up to 96 nautical miles. The new system will be in place by November next year.”

At present,573 port security personnel and around 500 police personnel (from the Yellow Gate,Sewree and Wadala police stations) look after port security. The MbPT spends about Rs 12 crore on the police and Rs 12.60 crore on its own security personnel. After the CISF takes over,the police would not be required for watch and ward,while the MbPT security personnel (about 550) would be redeployed elsewhere. (Rakshit Sonawane)

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