Opinion » Comment

Updated: November 27, 2009 22:20 IST

Where style has trumped substance

Praveen Swami
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IMPRESSIVE: Much of the new equipment is inappropriate, and in some cases, useless. Photo: AFP
IMPRESSIVE: Much of the new equipment is inappropriate, and in some cases, useless. Photo: AFP

The modernisation programme for the Mumbai police is nowhere near giving the city the counter-terrorism capabilities it needs. Mumbai’s counter-terrorism programme offers a fascinating insight into just how style has trumped substance.

Armed with a spanking-new assault rifle, constable Sanjay Kamble stood outside the Taj Mahal hotel this afternoon — the face of a force that is seeking to transform itself into a truly modern force capable cutting-edge crisis management, intelligence-gathering and modern investigation.

Working upwards of fourteen hours a day — not counting the typically three hours spent commuting — constable Kamble earns a basic pay of Rs. 5,200 a month. Sanitation workers employed by the Brihan Mumbai Municipal Corporation are paid less — Rs. 4,440 a month — but end up taking home similar wages, because of overtime. Indeed, until the Sixth Pay Commission recently upgraded the categorisation of police work as semi-skilled from skilled, sanitation workers actually made more money. Little has been done to upgrade the police’s living standards and training.

Mumbai Police personnel stationed at pickets set up to guard hotels and public buildings in the run-up to the anniversary of last November’s attacks did not have proper hygiene and rest facilities. Land assigned years ago to build police housing in the central Worli area was usurped by private builders — and is now home to many of the city’s politicians and business élite.

For the most part, Mumbai’s police modernisation programme has consisted of making purchases of equipment that at first glance appears impressive — but, on closer scrutiny, amounts to little more than putting lipstick on a pig. If hiring requirements, salaries and training are not thoroughly reviewed the ongoing police modernisation will yield limited gains.

Cosmetic changes

Mumbai’s counter-terrorism programme offers a fascinating insight into just how style has trumped substance.

For the past week, Indian television viewers have been bombarded with gushing commentary on Mumbai’s new élite counter-terrorism quick reaction teams. New equipment, ranging from state-of-the-art automatic weapons to brand-new bullet proof jeeps and amphibious vehicles, have been rolled out in front of the cameras.

In fact, much of the new equipment is inappropriate — and in some cases, useless.

The M4 Colt 5.56 Carbine, first designed for urban combat by the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation, was picked as the standard-issue weapon for Mumbai’s counter-terrorism teams. The weapon is in the process of being phased out by its core users. The United States’ Marines have chosen the Fabrique Nationale Herstal Special Forces Compact Assault Rifle, while the crack Delta Force has picked the Heckler and Koch M4. The new weapons have overcome problems integral to the M4 and other carbines powered by gas-optimised systems — among them, jamming and heavy component wear and tear.

Mumbai Police planners also ordered a large number of the Brügger & Thomet MP5A4 machine pistol, along with its sub-compact cousin, the MP9. No one in office has an explanation for just why the MP9 was ordered. The weapon, which features a retractable stock and a magazine fitted inside the grip, is designed for environments where weapons cannot be displayed — for example, functions where important officials are making speeches. Since VIP protection is not among the duties of the Mumbai Police, the order has mystified many experts.

The MP5A4, by contrast, is a robust and well-established weapon. But the 9-millimetre ammunition system it uses is known to be less than optimal at generating neurologic shock — the biological phenomenon that kills or incapacitates targets. Many crack forces, therefore, are slowly switching to newer ammunition systems. The Special Protection Group, for example, now uses the 5.27 x 8 millimetre Fabrique Nationale Herstal P90. Mumbai planners, however, never even investigated alternate systems.

For reasons that are unclear, the Mumbai Police also purchased the M107 Special Application Rifle, the most powerful small arm in the world. Its 50-calibre shells can punch through armoured vehicles and concrete walls, but also pose a substantial threat of collateral damage to civilians. Mumbai does not have a range where personnel can be trained to use the weapon. Nor does it have experts familiar with the complex, computerised equipment needed to optimise the weapon’s use in varying climactic and wind conditions.

Just three men — former Police Commissioner Hasan Gaffur, Additional Commissioner of Police Vinay Khargaonkar and Joint Commissioner of Police Sanjay Barwe — were given the responsibility of selecting these weapons. None had any experience in either special weapons technologies or counter-terrorism tactics. Instead, representatives of the Hong Kong-based firm which made the sale acted as advisers and also provided short-term training in their use. No counsel was solicited from Mumbai Police officials actually involved in setting up new élite units.

Police have also paraded an array of apparently impressive mobility platforms, like armoured jeeps and amphibious vehicles. No one, however, has actually planned under what situations these platforms will be used. Expensive bomb-detection equipment, designed to scan trucks and cars for explosives, is already gathering dust.

Much of the training for Mumbai’s élite forces has been provided by officers from the National Security Guard and foreign private firms. India has no authority charged with assessing the quality of the instruction provided by these firms, so there is no empirically-robust way of knowing how adequate it actually is. The NSG itself is still in the process of learning lessons from its conduct of the siege last November, when the tactical shortcomings of the military-dominated force were brutally exposed.

Last year, much commentary focussed on how the steady decline in the State police’s intelligence capabilities had left Mumbai vulnerable to terrorist operations. Maharashtra now has a state-of-the-art intelligence academy, intended to revive the police’s long-decaying intelligence capabilities. But the State authorities haven’t yet assigned an officer to run the institution.

Electronic networks linking the Intelligence Bureau with the State police in real time are still in early-execution stage. Work towards building a national criminal database is years away from realisation.

Union Home Minister P. Chidambaram has announced massive new grants for developing State police forensic capabilities. However, police commanders say, their pool of personnel with the educational qualifications to execute modern investigation is grossly inadequate — no surprise, given the salary structure.

No police force in India runs a programme encouraging constables to take time off for higher education, or linking promotions to new qualifications. Last year, crime-scene contamination and poor forensic capabilities meant that India was heavily dependent on the United States Federal Bureau of Investigations to build a credible case. One year on, very little has changed.

Experiences ignored

Worst of all, the Mumbai authorities — as well as the counterparts in other major Indian cities — have shown a remarkable unwillingness to learn from their own experience.

In the wake of last year’s attacks, the Mumbai Police amended its emergency-response protocols — just as it had done in 2006, after terrorists linked to the Lashkar-e-Taiba bombed the city’s commuter train system. No courses have been organised, though, to help officers understand just why the earlier standard operating procedure collapsed, and what needs to be done to avoid it.

Mumbai is, furthermore, yet to rehearse its preparedness for another mass-casualty attack.

In July, Singapore staged Operation North Star VII, in which more than 2,000 participants from 15 government agencies and the media participated in simulated attacks on hotels, malls and an underground train station.

New York Police Department officials visited Mumbai days after the attacks to study the assault sites, and draw lessons. By December 5, 2008, the New York police had carried out a tactical drill from Emergency Service Unit officers and a tabletop exercise for commanders based on the Mumbai scenario.

Last year, new Indian Police Service recruits were finally offered a course in counter-terrorism: a stark, if depressing, illustration of just how slow India’s security system has been to respond to the long-standing challenge it faces.

Last year, Indian television viewers watched in horror as constable Jillu Yadav battled the terrorists at Chhattrapati Shivaji Terminus, armed only with a bolt-action rifle — and, when his ammunition ran out, a chair. Now, his colleagues might have better guns — but are still under-trained, under-paid and overworked. India’s city’s desperately needs its politicians to back a holistic programme of police reform and capability-enhancement.

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I think this article is overly critical of the actions of the Mumbai Police. While training is vital, they have to purchase equipment before they can train with it. Selecting the M4 and the MP5 was very sensible. The M4 is a well tested and proven weapon. It may have its problems, but it works well when properly maintained. Many of the problems that soldiers have had with it stem from the difficulties of maintaining it in a dusty battlefield environment. The Mumbai police shouldn't have any trouble maintaining the weapon in the urban environment. The MP5 is also a well proven weapon. The 9mm cartridge is the most popular military and police pistol cartridge in the world. By contrast, the P90 and its cartridge are not proven at all, and many experts question its effectiveness. It is safer to purchase well proven weapons than to buy the newest but unproven designs. Also, the fact that these weapons are being phased out in some other organizations means that there may be opportunities for the Mumbai Police to purchase them at lower prices. Certainly, the Mumbai Police have much work to do if they are to become more effective, but it will take time. Hope it will all come together eventually.

from:  Dwane Anderson
Posted on: Dec 7, 2009 at 17:42 IST

Well written and shocking item. Is there another scam involved in the purchase of these apparently useless weapons? That no person with experience in counter-terrorism wan involved and that the sales-representatives acted as advisors makes a strong case here. Thorough investigation should be made regarding this whole issue.

from:  Tej
Posted on: Nov 29, 2009 at 07:20 IST

The most important question is how do we verify the effectiveness of the newly acquired weapons systems and Mobility platforms, vehicles etc. in real life combat situation.

Conducting regular drills on the lines of North Star VII and the New York tabletop exercise is the need of the hour. Moreover Our elite forces should be made to participate in joint exercises with the Marines, Delta forces from USA and the SAS from UK. This is in no means attributing a lower grade tag to the indian elite forces but there is a valid reason - Simply because the Delta forces, Marines have relatively more experience in operating in various battlefield environments like in Afghanistan Iraq, African countries etc. The other reason being they ride on a far more advanced weaponry than the Indian elite forces as mentioned in this article.

Thanks Pravin, a very objective article.

from:  Abhishek Raval
Posted on: Nov 28, 2009 at 23:35 IST

Mr.Praveen Swami's article makes shocking reading coming as it does just after the Home Minister's assurances that India has upgraded its security systems and forces and their equipments.He had us fooled and almost believing that we are now geared fully to meet all challenges from across the border.He literally lulled us into complacency.The choice of weapons,if one were to believe what the author has pointed out-and there is no reason not to-not only leaves a lot to be desired but raises many issues which are at best left to the central authorities and investigative agencies to question.The author must be
complimented for a very well written piece.

from:  Raj Kumar
Posted on: Nov 28, 2009 at 08:32 IST

Since the Mumbai bombings of 1993, there have been innumerable terrorist attacks in the nation. Mumbai itself has been hit thrice, and each time the casualties have numbered in the hundreds. If the status quo did not change after past attacks, why should we expect it to change after 26/11? Cosmetic changes, as discussed in this article, are simply to provide a semblance of action and assuage the public furore. Our politicians and bureaucracy know very well that public memory in this country is extremely short.

from:  Astitva
Posted on: Nov 27, 2009 at 23:51 IST

An eye opening account. Seems like it is absolutely contrary to the pride and honour of the State to learn some lessons from the gravest of attacks we have faced so far ...

from:  Danish Saiyed
Posted on: Nov 27, 2009 at 23:03 IST

"Where style has trumped substance" a soul searching narration that should open the hearts and minds of the ruling elites. Those who guard the boards and maintain the law and order of the country are paid the pittance while Ministers like Koda loot the country to enrich themselves. It is sordid story of India never distributed its wealth nor it found a way to channel it to the deserved millions. If the leadership puts itself above the poor masses of India, specially the men and women in uniform, not give due consideration to their sacrifice they make to protect the federation of India, there will be Kasabs not only from accross the boarder but from the contry itself. The government must not ingnore the plight of the police force and recognise their services to the nation with a pay similar to the IT employees. Politicians are no greater than the men in uniform.

from:  Robert Mathew
Posted on: Nov 27, 2009 at 12:56 IST

It will be in the interest of the nation's security if Home Minister Chidambaram reads this article which lays bare the inadequacies of the response system which Mumbai has set up to counter terrorist attacks. The situation in other cities is not likely to be better than that in Mumbai. Whenever Mr.Chidambaram speaks he sounds satisfied with the steps the country has taken to defend against any terrorist attacks in future.But what Praveen Swami says confirms the general apprehension in the country that we may not be really secure from devastation from committed and well-trained terrorists even after a year after the 26/11 attack.

from:  K.Vijayakumar
Posted on: Nov 27, 2009 at 06:02 IST
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