Many key initiatives remain on paper — inadequate CCTVs across city, main towns a case in point

Four years after terrorists sneaked undetected through Mumbai’s defences to launch an incredible terror spree in which more than 160 people were killed and over 300 injured, the city’s security apparatus continues to lie shambolic.

Notwithstanding the Home Department’s silent elation over the execution of 26/11 gunman Mohammad Ajmal Amir Kasab, the city’s level of preparedness on the eve of the 4th anniversary of the November 2008 terror attacks remains woefully inadequate as most of the keystone initiatives remain on paper only.

A major factor hamstringing the Mumbai police force is the delay in installing adequate CCTV cameras throughout the city and other major townships across Maharashtra.

An ambitious project to set up 6,000 pieces of CCTV cameras (14 cameras per sq. km.) throughout Mumbai continues to remain a pipe-dream. This much-vaunted security undertaking involves the installation of cameras, monitoring through various control rooms and sharing crucial footage with security agencies.

The Ram Pradhan committee, set up to probe the deficiencies in security response to the 26/11 attacks, had recommended the installation of CCTV cameras not only in Mumbai, but also in Pune, Nagpur, Nasik and Aurangabad.

Appalling loopholes

In his report, Mr. Pradhan, a former Chief Secretary, specifically pointed out to snags in command and control during the police bid to combat terrorists, specifically detailing appalling security loopholes such as the slow response of ‘Quick Response Teams’ (QRTs), inertia of Flying Squads and lack of ammunition supply among other factors.

However, the State government woke up from its stupor only after the February 2010 German Bakery blast in Pune and the triple blasts in Zaveri Bazaar, Dadar and Opera House, following which the Pradhan committee’s recommendations assumed some urgency.

In September 2011, Home Minister R.R. Patil, along with a retinue of senior police officers, even toured London to enhance their understanding of the working of CCTV networks there. The State government invited its first tenders for procurement in April-May this year.

According to the authorities, the Home Department re-invited proposals in the last week of September for installing CCTVs after the lowest bidders quoted whopping prices.

Home Department officials said fresh tenders were still being scrutinised and they were analysing queries pertaining to the technical and financial aspects of the bidding process.

In the meantime, the project cost has ballooned from an initial Rs. 300 crore to well over Rs. 850 crore.

Compounding the project's woes, the Mumbai police’s modernisation cell has yet to take stock of the existing CCTV cameras in the city, with at least a third of them being out of order.

If the proposed CCTV project has yet to take off, insiders within the security establishment have cast doubts on the readiness of the other important post-26/11 initiative, the elite combat squad ‘Force One,’ constituted on the lines of the National Security Guards.

“Despite Force One commandos carrying out periodic drills, they are yet to undergo their first baptism by fire. Moreover, they still lack adequate training or firing practice, a fact pointed out by the Israeli trainers too. So apart from an annual show-of-strength and equipment, the reality is quite different,” said a senior officer, on condition of anonymity.

When questioned on its level of preparedness, Rajnish Sheth Special IG (Force One) merely said: “Force One is always in a state of readiness.”

The unit has yet to have a permanent base. Mr. Sheth said: “For the present, we operate out of the Kole Kalyan village in Kalina. Our 99-acre headquarters in Goregaon are expected to be constructed soon and we would be shifting immediately.”

He rebutted reports of the 300-member strong team being saddled with defective or inadequate counter-terror combat gear.

“Force One commandos have been equipped with AK-47s, MP5 sub-machine guns and latest communication gadgets,” he said.

Speaking to The Hindu , Mr. Pradhan said : “While there have been statements issued by the State government from time to time indicating incremental progress in various departments, it is high time the administration came out with a holistic, comprehensive report on the State of its readiness in dealing with a 26/11-like situation.”

A top police officer said, “In a large part, the knee-jerk initiatives after the 26/11 attacks have been, in the main, largely cosmetic. Lack of proper coordination between the police and Navy while patrolling the coast is yet another debilitating aspect.”

  • Ambitious project to set up 6,000 pieces of CCTV cameras (14 cameras per sq. km.) throughout Mumbai not yet in place

  • Slow response of ‘Quick Response Teams,’ inertia of Flying Squads and lack of ammunition supply too are plaguing factors