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The Rediff Interview/RPF Inspector General B S Sidhu

'The terrorists have the advantage of first strike'

December 11, 2008


RPF Inspector General B S Sidhu
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B S Sidhu is the Inspector General of the Railway Police Force and also the Chief Security Commissioner, Central Railway. He spoke to rediff.com's A Ganesh [Images] Nadar about the November 26 attack at the Chhattrapati Shivaji Terminus and what the RPF plans to do in the war against terror.

What is the first step you took when you heard about the attacks?

The control room alerted me. As it was late evening, most officers had gone home. The first thing we did was to ask them to come back. The initial reports were not clear. They were garbled. It said there was firing between two groups of people. Later, we realised it was a terrorist attack. This was the first attack of this kind in this city so we did not recognise it as such at first.

What steps have you taken to ensure that such an attack doesn't happen again?

This was a peculiar attack and a terror attack. All legal powers to deal with such a situation are invested with the state government by the Constitution. The RPF has a limited role -- we try to provide protection to the people on railway premises. Generally it extends to small things like pickpockets, hawkers, vendors and things like that. We try our best to protect them against anything. For example, suppose Pakistan drops a bomb on a railway premises, you cannot expect us to get jet fighters and anti-aircraft guns. That is the job of the military to deal with that situation.

We have analysed the attack and now our people will carry automatic and semi-automatic arms. Moreover they need protection, so we have put up shoulder-high bunkers. They will be given bullet-proof vests and helmets.

The bunkers are already there. The men have undergone arms training, but we are going to put them to another test to make them better.

The terrorists have the advantage of first strike. So even if our men are well armed they will go down without protection. It is a combination of both. They have to be protected and be in a position to retaliate.

How many RPF men are stationed at CST and how many are on duty at any given time?

We have 190 men here. You cannot count those on leave and vacancies. Then there are three shifts. The day shifts have more men as more trains come in. When the terrorists attacked that day, the night shift was deployed. There were 28 men on duty.

What are the arms at your disposal?

We have .303 rifles. In the last few years we have tried to modernise. We have automatic and semi automatic weapons. Now we have 70 odd weapons but we will get more. Most of the old timers do not know how to use the new arms so we are sending them for training again. The new ones passing out know how to use them.

How many RPF men are there in the Central Railway? Are they enough?

The total sanctioned RPF strength of the Central Railway is 5,005. We have 4,200 plus now. The rest are vacancies. A few go for training and some are on leave. We also take up other jobs. Like on that particular day, 1,000 of our people were in Jammu and Kashmir [Images] on election duty.

Where security is concerned, what is enough is a difficult question to answer. Let us take the Indian Army [Images]. In times of peace the existing men will look like surplus. If there is war, then they will be considered less.

So more than numbers, it is the element of preparedness that is important.

What kind of arms are you planning to buy, and what kind of training will be given to enhance your security apparatus?

So far we had never thought of over arming our men. Normally they are dealing with hawkers and small criminals. They are dealing with common people. So we thought that if they are given automatic weapons even a minor accident would turn to be a major killer if an automatic weapon is discharged by mistake. Sometimes we have dharna. We don't want our men shooting our own people with automatic weapons.

So normally even if there are weapons we will not issue them to everybody as that could cause other problems.

When you walk into the CST, there are metal detectors but nobody pays attention to them.

Why don't you take a walk around the terminus? Only 50 percent are manned by the RPF and the other half is with the Government Reserve Police. As far as my men are concerned, they are standing next to the metal detectors with hand-held detectors.

At peak time, 1,200 to 1,500 people pass through CST in a minute. It would be impossible to check all of them. We do random checks. This deters the criminal because they are not sure in a random check whether they will be checked or not. It will scare them. The threat of checks will create a fear psychosis among mischief mongers.

Airlines carry less people in a year that we carry in a day. So we cannot check like them. We cannot ask people to report three hours before departure.

We are a mass transport system, and nowhere in the world in such a system can everyone be checked. Even those countries like Israel, the US and UK, which have the highest threat perception, they cannot check everyone in a Mass Rapid Transport System.

In the morning all the policemen are reading the newspapers, the rest of the day they are chatting, drinking tea and eating paan/supari, who is supposed to make them pay attention?

It is everybody's responsibility to ensure that the force stays alert right from the head constable to me.

Is it true that the RPF and GRP do not talk to each other and nobody talks to the Home Guards?

I don't think that is true. I can guarantee that they do talk.

Who coordinates these three forces on the station?

There is no one agency to coordinate these three forces. But we do talk to each other and decide accordingly.

The Mumbai police have their own walkie-talkies which helped them keep abreast of what was happening in the rest of the city. How do your people keep in touch with each other?

All forces have their own channels. The drivers in the railways have their own channel, we have our own. But when we know something that concerns the other we always inform them.

Even when the firing was on, three local trains arrived at the CST station. How did this happen?

Most of the trains were stopped. You will have to ask the commercial department how many trains came in at that time. In the initial stages we thought it was two underworld gangs clashing. When we knew it was a terrorist attack all trains were stopped. And those trains arrived during or immediately after the attack when we ourselves were not sure what it was.

How many agencies are involved in the investigations?

It will be done by the Anti-Terrorism Squad and the GRP and not by us. We do not have the authority to conduct an investigation.

The police finally chased the terrorists from the station. Why did they not chase them outside?

I had arrived by that time. What happened was that we were not sure that they had left. It was dark. We thought that they were still hiding here. To add to our suspicion some people were peeping out of one coach.

Our people surrounded that coach. Finally they turned out to be our own motormen who had hidden there when the terrorists were firing. They came out with their hands up. Thus, we lost precious time during which they had escaped.

We have many stories of individual bravery, but no collective action. The next time will we see collective action?

We all hope that the next time will be better than the present one. We will be better equipped and better trained to react faster.

Photograph: Uttam Ghosh


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