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Home > India > News > Columnists > Mahesh Vijapurkar

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Pathetic handling of blasts' aftermath

September 14, 2008

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Half an hour after the first blast in New Delhi [Images] on Saturday, the NDTV 24/7 telecast telling visuals that said it all. We just don't know how to handle the aftermath of the terror attacks which we don't know how to forestall.

Take, for example, the young woman in a yellow top and black trousers, hurt in the bombing of the Connaught Place's Central Park. She was shown being carried away, four persons holding a limb each to a police vehicle several yards away in Connaught Place. She was dripping blood, her head snapped back under its own weight and in agony.

No stretcher in sight, no ambulance within miles and crowds who should have scattered to safety and enable the police to do their job, such as the job they do -- ham-handed, impulsive, not to a drill that would maximise results.

One does not know what happened to the poor young woman. Such victims are threatened with death less because of the injuries but more due to the way she was handled by well-meaning but perhaps misguided people. We may actually be pushing up the death toll and bolster the designs of the terrorists. And the State owes something better to its citizens.

Cut to the train blasts in Mumbai on July 11, 2006. Scores of people, badly mauled, were seen carried away in bed sheets thrown at the impromptu rescuers from homes along the railway tracks. Persons with a limb torn away were carted away in auto-rickshaws by good Samaritans, the ride being given free.

Speed, one accepts, is of the essence. But the means also has to be proper so that the good intent does not translate to death or further complications. It is as if the disaster managers don't even know that there is something called the Golden Hour when best support is required, even before the person is reached to the hospital. That is why modern civilisations -- we are living in one, aren't we? -- has the concept called an ambulance.

This kind of speedy but amateurish shift of the hurt, dying and the dead has been seen in every location where the terrorist struck by seting off explosions -- Hyderabad, Bangalore, Jaipur [Images], Ahemedabad and now Delhi. This mishandling and the delays in being attended to on reaching the hospitals, I bet, are the causes of several deaths. Or permanent damage to the body.

Why?

Because, we have just not got our act together, despite the country having had a high-powered committee, headed by Sharad Pawar [Images] to outline how disaster management ought to be because of his experience of handling the aftermath of the March 12, 1993 serial blasts in Mumbai.

Now cut to the scenes outside the various train stations in London [Images] after the July 7, 2005 train bombings. Not an individual who needed medical help was just carried away any which way. Fully equipped ambulances with paramedics on board moved in with stretchers and ensured that help was fully professional. Within minutes plastic tents for on-the-spot support was set up.

It is here that we fall short; grievously so, in fact.

There are other critical phases of post-terrorist attacks where we fail abysmally, though there have been a few instances of positive gains made in policing. Here is the brief, very brief, positive list:

One, the Indian security agencies have now learnt to zero-in on the suspect computers or their routers used to send out terror threats or claims owning up attacks and IP addresses are located.

Two, in Surat [Images], bomb after bomb which did not go off were found and defused, bomb by bomb, without any untoward collateral damage.

However, and unfortunately, there is not much to be added to this list because, apart from Afzal Guru and those convicted in the Mumbai's 1993 blasts, how many terrorists have been brought to book? Even Afzal Guru's death sentence remains to be carried out.

Now, let us look at the negative list of our so called anti-terror policing.

In Surat, in their hurry to unload and defuse the bombs found in the cars left on Surat roads, the police obliterated every fingerprint on it. These prints would have been valuable to fixing the involvement of people who otherwise would get the benefit of doubt and be let off for want of evidence.

They made a villain of Kenneth Haywood, feeding the media stories about sinister dimensions to some religious activities of his. He even left the country, returned and said he had not fled but only gone away to take a break from the stressful moments he was plunged into.

Often, and in most cases, the police establishments across the country speculate about the involvement of some faction or the other of the militants, pin the blame on the Pakistani Inter-Services Intelligence -- which well might be the real thing -- and announce the name of an outfit as the culprits. If they know it within the hour of an event even before the first clue is gathered, then pray, why did the police which was so close to the culprit's identity, not pre-empt the bombing?

This sleight of hand is now a thing of the past because the Indian Mujahedeen has made it a habit to announce its ownership of the dastardly acts. Now, it has even started sending e-mails minutes the blasts it sets off, saving the police the task of speculating as to who did it.

Take again the failure of the close-circuit cameras set up on the toll plazas on the highways going out of Mumbai. They caught not a single car that was stolen from Navi Mumbai for use in Ahmedabad [Images] and Surat because, as a senior police official of Thane district adjoining Gujarat explained, 'They were all at angles to photograph trucks' and not cars which are low-slung in comparison.

Equally galling was the -- yes, well meaning but potentially hazardous -- way a constable grabbed the plastic bag containing a bomb from two rag pickers in Delhi on Saturday, using a stone to crush the clock that was a timer. He saved lives, but he may have jeopardised those in the vicinity. Who knows, instead of disarming, he may have even set off an explosion. Where, pray, were the bomb disposal squads?

Policemen just do not have the means to chase the clues, and my feeling is that if there are suspects who have been brought to courts, then they are those who have confessed because of the third degree and those confessions found their way to the charge sheets. The good old policing is just dead.

They do not even go by the forensic laboratory findings. They begged to differ with the forensics who said the August 26, 2003 blasts near Gateway of India were carried out using RDX.

Fact, you see, has to fit a theory, not otherwise.

For, the police have to find someone, tell the media that they have a terrorist in the bag, damn and tar him/her in the media � that's what trial by the media, trial in the media is all about, isn't it? � and claim successes. And then what? The next terrorist attack and a few shibboleths like the one spouted by Union Home Minister, Shivraj Patil [Images]. The country would find the criminals and punish them.

That is an assertion the country, now angry at the spate of bombings, in city after city, can digest. Find something more credible to say, Mr Home Minister or you would be laughing stock. They are already saying enough was enough and time we stopped depending on these incompetents. Strong sentiment, that.

And in this posturing, he is not alone. He has L K Advani [Images] for company. He demands stringent laws like the Prevention of Terrorism [Images] Act, 2002 be brought back to the statute. He forgets the simple fact that for a terrorist driven by passion, laws are no deterrent. Before any stringent law is used against the criminals, they have to be caught. But have we caught enough of them?

Therefore, I have a more humane suggestion. Before we learn to catch the terrorist and then use any law against them, let us learn to handle those innocents who fall victim to the terrorists. Or else, we would be only shadow boxing.


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