With the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan issuing threats to avenge the execution of the 26/11 Mumbai attacks convict Ajmal Kasab this past week, security apparatus in the Capital has been put on alert. But the Capital has witnessed a series of terror strikes in the recent past, each laying bare the claims of security agencies about counter measures being in place. And this time too the situation is no different.
High on the target list, Delhi houses vital installations of public, political, economic and strategic importance. Through periodic risk assessment on threat perceptions, over 450 such locations, including prominent hotels, major market places, prominent religious places and even railway and metro stations, have been earmarked for constant security audit.
While the Delhi Police’s claim of adequate preventive steps seems true primarily for government installations, the situation at public places that attract large crowds is alarming in terms of counter-terror preparedness.
In their own interest, luxury hotels have deployed guards and installed security gadgets including metal detectors and baggage scanners. “However, these measures would not be enough to withstand any attack of the 26/11 scale or heavy explosions,’’ admitted an officer, stating that the staff operating them is often not professional.
Access control at railway stations is yet another area that requires urgent attention. With people being able to walk into the stations from the railway tracks, there are many loopholes that need to be plugged. For the record though, big railway stations are now restricted and have baggage scanners in place. But at smaller stations, even such pretence of security arrangements is not there.
The busy market places remain equally vulnerable and even those that have witnessed massive blasts in the past do not fare any better. Each of the three entry points at the bustling Lajpat Nagar Central Market has a Door Framed Metal Detector (DFMD). However, only a fraction of the people visiting the market pass through them; most make their way in through the gaps left between the police barricades, or even the exits.
Even those who use the proper DFMD gates to enter the market are neither frisked nor are their belongings searched.
Each gate has, on an average, four policemen deployed for security. On weekends, when the market is bustling with people, a lone cop cuts a sorry figure in the melee, and the warnings being constantly blared over loudspeakers about suspicious objects and people appear mere lip service.
There are also no clear guidelines about the entry of vehicles into Lajpat Nagar market as bicycles, two wheelers and even cars can be seen parked inside. A security guard employed by the market association said although there was proper parking space allocated for parking, many shopkeepers brought their vehicles inside the market.
A false sense of security is created by the presence of private guards, who operate in groups of two per road and are occasionally briefed about potential security threats by the police. However, they lack training or firepower to counter any planned assault.
According to some shopkeepers, the number of closed circuit cameras placed in the market is also inadequate. A shopkeeper said most of the cameras installed have low resolution and the quality of footage is also questionable.
The scenario is not very different at Palika Bazar in Connaught Place. Recalling the 2008 blasts at Central Park, located few metres outside Gate Number 1 of the market, Mehar Elahi, the Palika Bazar Shopkeepers Welfare Association vice president, said a proposal of placing CCTV cameras outside the gates to keep a tab on those entering never took off. “The police had mooted the proposal in a meeting. It was mutually agreed that cameras would be placed to monitor both the visitors and the hawkers outside the market,” said Mr. Elahi.
Mr. Elahi said of the nine entry points, only two have X-ray machines to scan bags, and the metal detectors at the gates either did not function or were not properly utilised. He insisted that the presence of over 250 hawkers right outside Palika Bazaar had also compromised its security.
“Overall, a sense of lethargy and resignation has set in. People and police want to combat terror through technology and manpower, but the endless wait for something to happen has tired them out. No one knows how Delhi would actually be able to respond to a 26/11 scenario,” said another shopkeeper at Palika Bazar.