Maharashtra Home Minister R.R. Patil, who resigned in the wake of 26/11, is back in the chair after the recent Assembly elections. As Deputy Chief Minister and Home Minister in the last government, he was among the first to know of the firing on the night of the Mumbai terror strike. “We first heard reports about firing and later the explosions. By the time we learnt it was a terror strike, mobile phones had got jammed. We were waiting for all the senior police officers to come. Mr. Chhagan Bhujbal [now Deputy Chief Minister] came to my house and we left immediately to visit all the terror-hit sites together,” he said in an interview to The Hindu on the first anniversary of the terror strike.
Mr. Patil is unfazed by his having had to quit his post over a trivial remark and says that in the last one year he has been busy heading the Nationalist Congress Party unit in the State. “I thought a lot and I am back with complete self-confidence. People’s security is most important and we will set up a great, competent police force. I am willing to pay any price for this.”
However, as Home Minister his cup is full. The former Mumbai Police Commissioner, Hasan Gafoor, in a press interview, has accused four senior policemen of not having done their duty on November 26, and Vinita Kamte, wife of Ashok Kamte, a senior police officer killed that night, looks daggers at the police.
Mr. Patil has asked the Additional Chief Secretary (Home) to inquire into the Gafoor episode and get the former police chief’s version. But the Minister made his displeasure clear. “I don’t know in what context he has said all this against these four officers. We will wait for Mr. Gafoor’s views. But as a policy I will not tolerate indiscipline in the force. The Ram Pradhan Committee has already inquired into the role of the police. There is no need for me to inquire into Mr. Gafoor’s charges.”
However, Mr. Patil is not averse to making the committee report public. While the report is shrouded in secrecy, Mr. Patil says he will examine it once again and see whether it can be made public, without publishing security-related matters.
Responding to Ms. Kamte’s charges, he says: “I don’t know exactly what happened, I will try and get her all information and solve the problems. I will call her personally and give her the necessary information.”
Ms. Kamte in her book, To the Last Bullet, has pointed fingers at Joint Commissioner (Crime) Rakesh Maria and said he denied her crucial information about her husband’s death. She had to invoke the Right to Information Act to get Ashok Kamte’s post-mortem report and the call records from the control room which showed that though he and other police officers radioed for help, none came to their rescue.
That’s not all. Four days ago, Mr. Patil was forced to order an inquiry into the disappearance of bulletproof jacket of Hemant Karkare, Joint Commissioner, Anti-Terrorist Squad, who was killed along with Ashok Kamte. The Minister says it has been reported missing; it could have been misplaced in hospital.
Many of the affected families are upset at the government package. Kavita Karkare, wife of Hemant Karkare, recently met Congress president Sonia Gandhi on her problems.
“I don’t know what is the nature of the complaint. I will personally meet everyone affected by the terror strike and try and sort things out,” says Mr. Patil. He has reviewed all four relief packages for the victims’ families and maintains that about 99 per cent of the State package is implemented and the Central government relief has also come.
Meanwhile, Mumbai’s elite anti-terror squad, Force One, is already in a controversy, as two of the jawans were taken ill at Tuesday’s passing-out parade.
“I have inquired about this — one of them had fever and the other had malaria. They should not have been out at the parade. However, we are going to increase the strength of Force One and a platoon of 258 National Security Guard is also in readiness, apart from 26 Quick Response Teams,” says Mr. Patil.
“We are also increasing recruitment to the police force and this year we will recruit 15,000 people. This will reduce work pressure. Security and police are top priorities for this government. Homes for police, education of their children, and health will be number one. We are also increasing the number of police stations where the population has increased.”