Maharashtra's Anti-Terrorism Squad is grappling with a severe manpower crunch with 283 posts of the total 732 lying vacant, two-and-a-half years after a panel set up to probe state police's response to the Mumbai attacks recommended streamlining the force.
Of the sanctioned strength of 732 personnel for the ATS, which was formed in 2004 to counter terrorism and probe terror cases, 283 posts or 38.66 per cent of the required manpower are lying vacant as on September 1, 2011, ATS sources told mediapersons.
Although Maharashtra has borne the brunt of terrorism with six deadly attacks since 1993, including the 26/11 strikes, the state's terror watchdog has only 10 sub inspectors, the cutting edge of the force as they are first to investigate a case as against the sanctioned strength of 90.
The cumulative strength of constables in ATS stands at 354 as against approved 495. The constables are eyes and ears on the ground to gather intelligence inputs, the sources said.
The strength of middle-level officers is no better. There are only two superintendents of police for the four sanctioned posts, three assistant commissioners of police for the 10 required and 38 Inspectors instead of required strength of 50, the sources added.
In the aftermath of the brutal terror attack on November 26, 2008, the Ram Pradhan Committee in its report submitted in April 2009 had noted that the structure of ATS and its operations was in "somewhat confused state".
On November 26, 2008, Ajmal Amir Kasab and nine aides had landed here by sea and gone on a shooting spree at various places, including the Taj Mahal Hotel, Nariman House, Oberoi Hotel and CST railway station, killing 166 people.
"Government should reiterate that normally all terrorist attack cases in Mumbai as well as in the rest of Maharashtra should be investigated by ATS alone unless otherwise decided, but the force seems ill-equipped to fulfil the duty recommended by the committee", the Committee report had said.
ATS chief Rakesh Maria, an additional DGP in rank, was unavailable for comment.
Maharashtra DGP K Subramaniam said that the ATS is not the only agency facing the shortfall.
"We have been trying to fill up vacancies by expediting the recruitment process. As and when we get extra hands, we will ensure that top investigative wings such as ATS and other important wings get priority," the DGP said.
The top cop also attributed the backlog to the Maharashtra Public Service Commission scam.
"The recruitment of PSIs (police sub-inspectors) is put on hold for sometime due to the scam," Subramaniam said. The exams for the recruitment of PSIs had to be cancelled
after the answer papers of about 400 candidates were found to be replaced in 2002.
Former Indian Police Service officer and lawyer Y P Singh said intelligence gathering will be adversely affected if the vacancies are not filled, especially those of the lower- rung officials.
"Terror attacks can be prevented by gathering intelligence inputs. Senior officials don't gather inputs, but it is the lower rung men. Moreover, ATS has been considered as aside posting by the lower rung cops in the state," Singh said.
"PSIs and constables think that there is no public recognition and won't be having executive powers in the ATS. Many do not want to be transferred to this anti-terror unit,"
Since its inception, ATS has been delegated to be the nodal agency for exchange of intelligence with Intelligence Bureau and Research and Analysis Wing, apart from tracking and neutralising terror modules.