June 5, 2009 4:06:44 pm
MINUTES after midnight on November 27,Mumbai lost three of its finest police officers: chief of the Anti-Terrorism Squad Hemant Karkare,Additional Police Commissioner Ashok Kamte and Inspector Vijay Salaskar. All three were killed in Rang Bhavan Lane near Cama Hospital in a Mumbai Police Toyota Qualis. These three deaths were the first time that night when the horror of 26/11 attacks hit home.
A reconstruction of the two-hour sequence of events that led to this,based on interviews and records accessed by The Indian Express,shows how and why these officers walked into a blind alley. It underlines how panic in the police clouded information from the field Karkare and his men walked towards the scene of an encounter not knowing that it had ended 15 minutes earlier and that the terrorists were on the loose.
10:30 pm: As senior police officers rushed to various targets (as reported in the first part of this series) around the city without a clear deployment plan,Additional Commissioner of Police Sadanand Date and his wireless operator collected their bulletproof jackets and carbines from Malabar Hill police station. Via a detour of the Breach Candy area where the US Consulate is,they headed towards CST hearing that the terrorists had struck there.
10.45 pm: Ajmal Kasab and Abu Ismail reached Cama Hospital less than an hour after they had barged into the CST station at 9.55 pm and killed 52 inside the terminal.
11 pm: Dates vehicle was stopped at the Metro Cinema junction by a security guard from Cama Hospital who told him there was firing in the hospital,barely a minutes drive away. At 11.10 p.m.,Date saw two bodies at the entrance to the six-storey Women and Childrens Ward building inside the Cama compound. The lift operator told him that “two armed men” had walked up the stairs to the terrace after stopping at least twice to round up a few people,including security guard Raosaheb Phunde,and locking them up inside a toilet.
Dates team neared the sixth-floor landing before the terrace and then decided to backtrack,returning a few minutes later with pieces of metal they threw towards the terrace door. Date and his wireless operator were in the front,most others on the landing below since they did not have bulletproof jackets.
They got a burst of AK-47 fire in return. When they returned fire,a grenade was lobbed at them and almost everybody in the police party sustained injuries,some grievous. During this gunbattle,Date and his wireless operator repeatedly asked Control Room for reinforcements.
Three more grenades were lobbed at them subsequently,even as they kept returning fire. Around 11.40 p.m.,their ammunition almost exhausted and all the men injured,the team was despatched downstairs to get medical help and to contact the Control Room yet again.
Date stayed at his post,behind a wall that protected them from certain death in the grenade attacks,along with one dead and one grievously injured constable.
According to information at the Mumbai Police Control Room,teams that accounted for at least 80 policemen reported that they had arrived at Cama Hospital during those 40 minutes,responding to the calls and SMSs Date had sent.
These included one SRPF platoon and eight Mumbai Police mobile vans,each carrying between eight and 18 men,many of them armed. But they were never seen or heard,let alone take on the terror duo or seal off the exits to prevent them from fleeing.
Police sources confirm that Dates team was expecting reinforcements to arrive quickly Azad Maidan Police Station is adjacent to the hospital,at least two other police stations and the city police headquarters are located less then a couple of kilometers away. But help never came.
11.50 pm: An injured and out-of-ammunition Date messaged Joint Commissioner of Police (Law and Order) K L Prasad: The two terrorists had left.
11.40 pm: Maruti Phad,a driver for a Principal Secretary (Health) senior bureaucrat,received calls to report to work at Mantralaya and had set out from his government staff quarters in the Rang Bhavan lane. He knew there was a police team in the Cama premises from all the firing that had been going on. As he powered his car to make his way out of Rang Bhavan lane towards Metro cinema and then from there to Mantralaya,Kasab and Ismail walked calmly in from the main Mahapalika Marg and immediately fired at him. At 11.55 p.m.,he was feigning death with bullet injuries in his hand and back.
Instantly,his family was making frantic calls to the police. Information was passed on immediately. From our home window,my wife and brother saw me getting shot, Phad told The Indian Express.
Meanwhile,unable to open the door of Phads car due to the powerlock,Kasab and Ismail took refuge in the shadow of large bushes and trees around Phads quarters. They went into the compound for a bit,changed magazines and then came back to hide in the shadows near the Corporation Bank ATM in the lane 10 m away. Then there was silence for about 15 minutes, said Phad.
But clearly,15 minutes was not adequate time for the precise location of the two men to be picked up and relayed to the control rooms for Karkare,Kamte and Salaskar who were headed that way assuming from the wireless chatter that the encounter with Dates team was still on.
The ATS chief,who was outside the CST station nearby,learnt that Kasab and Ismail had gone towards the lane between the Times of India building and the Anjuman Islam School opposite the CST,and walked with some men towards the Rang Bhavan lane.
He was joined by Kamte,who had taken the Mumbai Port Trust road and reached the Times of India building and the Azad Maidan Police Club next door. From here,he walked with his wireless operator to the rear gate of Cama Hospital which is barely 100 m away in the same lane.
Salaskar was on his way to the Police Headquarters after questioning two suspects in Colaba - who turned out to be Israeli Consulate security guards when armed policemen outside the Azad Maidan Police Station informed him about Dates encounter inside Cama Hospital.
On hearing this,Salaskar and his men headed to the rear gate of the hospital in the lane where he met Kamte and Karkare.
The six-storey building where Date and his team were fighting Kasab and Ismail is on the other side of the rear gate.
In the next few minutes,Dates injured wireless operator emerged from the building with the news that Date was also wounded. By then,Kasab and Ismail had left the building and reached the main road outside the front gate of the hospital. Then a few shots rang out. They had killed a passerby on the pavement.
Karkare told his team to stay put at the rear gate of the hospital while he,Kamte and Salaskar got into a police Toyota Qualis belonging to the Pydhonie division assistant commissioner of police,with Salaskar at the wheel. Four other policemen sat in the rear and they drove towards the Corporation Bank ATM.
12.10 a.m: As Phad lay at the bottom of his car,he heard the Qualis come in. As he raised his head,he heard the burst of firing from behind the trees by the terrorists. Shocked,he watched as the firing continued from both sides for nearly 10 minutes.
As the firing from the police vehicle stopped,the duo walked to the car and fired some more, Phad says. They pulled out bodies from the front of the car and threw them on the road. Realising they would pass me again,I ducked to the bottom of the car.
It was another 15 minutes before the next police vehicle arrived and helped him out of the car and into the adjoining hospital,along with the bodies of Karkare,Kamte and Salaskar from the Qualis.
(Tomorrow: NSG gets the summons,red tape unrolls)
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