The manic Mane had to be subdued by civilians amid confused communication within the team
Senior Maharashtra police officials have admitted to The Hindu that there was a major security lapse in the handling of the January 25 freak road mishap here, in which the allegedly mentally unbalanced State Road Transport Corporation bus driver Santosh Mane caused the deaths of eight persons. Civilians grappled with Mane and overpowered him after 45 minutes, with no help from the elite Quick Response Team (QRT), which is set up expressly for such emergency situations. A gutsy 21-year-old, Sharif Ibrahim Kutty, had chased the offender down.
According to the log book in the State control room for that morning, a Deputy Commissioner of Police (DCP) in Pune called for the QRT, but there were no clear instructions about when, where and for what purpose the special teams were to be sent. There is no entry on record to say that the QRT was activated. “The communication was not clear. There was confusion,” a senior officer told The Hindu on condition of anonymity.
The senior officials have admitted that the police did not follow proper protocol to contain the damage. Given that Pune's name has figured prominently on the target list of terrorists, the lapse is severe, an official said.
Pune has 12 QRT teams comprising 96 commandos who are trained at the State's elite Force One headquarters. The QRT teams were formed after directives from the Statefollowing the Ram Pradhan Committee report on the 26/11 terror attack in Mumbai.
According to sources, the team members are trained to handle state-of-the-art weapons, such as MP5 and AK-45 guns, besides Glock pistols. Every three months, jawans undergo a physical proficiency test (PPT) and constables below the age of 30 are selected for 5 years.
The 96 commandos work in two shifts: six teams in the day, and six at night. All of them are stationed at the police headquarters in the Camp area and the distance from Camp to Swargate, about four km from which the incident occurred. However, Mane also drove to areas as close as around three km from the police headquarters.
Additional Commissioner of Police (Crime) Anant Shinde, responsible for the QRT, said: “The officially quoted response time for the QRT to react to any adverse situation is between seven to 11 minutes”. While all the senior officials refused to divulge details about the exact time the QRT was informed, Mr. Shinde said, “The QRT was informed and they had moved. But by the time they got to the spot, the driver had been nabbed. He was driving and moving fast, so his position could not be ascertained. He had to be chased.” Mr. Shinde said the QRT was not informed immediately, as the police had first tried to take control of the situation themselves. The manic drive that killed eight and injured more than 30 people lasted for about 45 minutes, police sources said.
Police Inspector Sunil Pandarkar, who is part of the QRT, refused to divulge details about when it was informed on the after day. “I was on leave, so I do not have any information,” Mr. Pandarkar said. He was of the opinion that the QRT was formed for a situation of “terror attack” and Wednesday's incident was not one. “Even if people on the streets had used their mind, this could have been averted,” he said.
According to the protocol, the QRT should be informed in cases of such emergencies. “Yes, I agree that there is a possibility that a terror attack can happen this way. After the first 10 minutes, it was clear that it was a deliberate act. The QRTs should have reached the spot,” a highly placed police official told The Hindu. He admitted that the lapse was more serious if the QRT did not reach the spot on time after having been informed.
A top official said the police would take corrective measures. “We will put it up for discussion among our officers and come up with a standard operating procedure to be followed at the district places,” he said. “The forces in Pune acted on time, they activated the controls on time. But they did not control the damage well. The distance covered by the bus came under at least four police stations. Enough forces should have been garnered,” he said.
“The QRT is activated only when a real situation occurs. In this case, when the bus driver went berserk, the immediate perception was that of an accident. When similar information came in the second time, all the mobile units were put on an alert and the beat marshals rushed to the route that the bus took,” an official, who did not wish to be named, told The Hindu.
“The real question is whether they were able to activate their local forces. The damage control was not done well. Another point of worry is that the police were not able to shoot at the tyres of the bus or at the driver,” the officer said.
Though the Pune police told the local court during the remand of the driver that they would probe the terror angle, they hardly treated the incident as one, when it unfolded. Pune Police Commissioner Meeran Chaddha Borwankar could not be reached for comment, despite repeated attempts.
QRT was not informed immediately as police first tried to address situation themselves: ACP
QRT was formed for a “terror attack”, which this incident was not: QRT official