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Home > News > Report

Guarding Mumbai's lifeline from terror

A Ganesh Nadar in Mumbai | July 11, 2007 14:45 IST

A K Sharma, Commissioner, GRP, Mumbai
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A year after terrorists bombed seven suburban trains during Mumbai's evening rush hour, the railway police at Churchgate station, from where the seven trains commenced their ill-fated journey that terrible Tuesday, is determined to prevent such acts of terror.

How are they doing this? By trying to check as many bags as possible that are coming into Churchgate station through the use of metal detectors, CCTV and sniffer dogs.

Senior Police Inspector Deepak Bagwe's office is at the northern end of Churchgate station, from where suburban trains of Western Railway begin and end.

He is part of the Government Railway Police, which falls under the ambit of the state government. The other policemen at the station belong to the central government's Railway Protection Force. Their task: Ensuring that terrorists' plans to carry out attacks on Mumbai's lifeline (as they did on July 11, 2006) are thwarted.

The RPF has 5,000 personnel to take care of the Western Railway. They are short of another 4,000 people.

Four GRP personnel are posted at every entrance of Churchgate station. Of the eight entrances, five have metal detector doorframes. At the other gates, policemen and women have hand-held metal detectors.

"Our people are there at every gate. The Home Guards are also helping us. During the day, we are there at all places but at night we do not have enough staff. We are using our strength to the maximum possible extent. We have only 50 per cent of the necessary staff," says Inspector Bagwe.

Lalit Kumar, chief security commissioner, Western Railway, says: "We need CCTVs, X-ray machines, handheld metal detectors and doorframe metal detectors."

He is in charge of Western Railway's security all the way to Indore, Ratlam and Nagda. He has six commandants to assist him.

The RPF and GRP have frequent meetings at every level to coordinate their activities. However, only the GRP has the authority to file cases as it derives its powers from the Indian Penal Code unlike the RPF, which functions under the Railway Act.

So far, seven railway stations have CCTV cameras. Twenty-five metal detector doorframes are to be acquired for these important stations. For 100 per cent coverage of all 28 stations on the route, 530 CCTVs are required. This will be done in the future.

The railways have just sanctioned a bomb detection and disposal squad for the RPF. Training will begin soon after the equipment is purchased. The Maharashtra police has expressed its willingness to train the RPF.

Apart from its uniformed personnel, the RPF also has plainclothes personnel travelling with the public. Its women's squad, Surakshini, is always in uniform. Among the new recruits, only 5 per cent are women.

"We can spend as much money as we want for security. Money will not be a problem," Lalit Kumar assures this correspondent.

K Sri Kumar is the inspector on duty at the RPF post in Churchgate. He has 82 men patrolling the station. Nine CCTV cameras, which can zoom in on any location, are mounted at strategic locations. The camera footage shows up on a monitor, which is manned 24x7x365.

Any suspicious movement or baggage invokes an immediate response. Swift action follows as a wireless message reaches the police personnel on the platform.

Nothing can escape our vigil, declares Inspector S S Sikarwar with confidence.

Dog squads appear at random hours, more so during the rush hours, between 8 am and 11 am and 4 pm and 7 pm.

Though the CCTV cameras cover every station entrance, its reach does not extend to the platforms.

A K Sharma, Commissioner, GRP, Mumbai, says: "We need more CCTVs. We have more than 400 hand-held metal detectors, which are enough. However, we have only 25 doorframe metal detectors. Both the GRP and RPF have dog squads. Sniffer dogs can detect a bomb even if it is placed on the luggage rack in trains."

For the Mumbai stretch of Western Railway, the GRP has more than 3,500 men, which Sharma believes is sufficient.

"Eighty lakh (8 million) people use the railways every day. It is not possible to check them all. We check 25,000 passengers every day. Every entrance and exit point is manned. We check people who are entering. People going out are not checked unless their movements are particularly suspicious," he says.

"We get intelligence inputs from other agencies. Our people act accordingly," says Sharma.

"The most important component of surveillance is public awareness," he adds. "Commuters must be alert. If they see anything even remotely suspicious, they must tell the nearest policemen. Public awareness is all important."

After last year's bomb blasts, a joint committee was set up under a deputy regional manager to see what could be done to prevent further terror attacks. Its report has been submitted to the government for action.

Satya Prakash refused to divulge details of the report, but says, "We have asked for more sniffer dogs, metal detectors -- both hand-held and doorframes, CCTV equipment, exclusive detection devices and random checking. Though this is already happening at major stations, we want it in all stations."

Photograph: Uday Kuckian