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A smart anti-terror force for Mumbai now

Meena Menon

It takes Force One 15 minutes to get ready and respond to a strike

— Photo: Vivek Bendre

Mock drill: Force One commandos demonstrate their skills during the Passing Out Parade of the first batch of 216 in Mumbai on Tuesday.

MUMBAI: The serenity of the sylvan State Reserve Police Force grounds in Goregaon is shattered by furious gunshots. Commandos clad in midnight blue and armed with MP5 submachine guns take positions behind a mock room.

Suddenly a youth with a backpack comes out of one of these “rooms,” screaming ‘surrender.’ As the commandos close in on him, he takes out a knife, but is overpowered.

With this mock drill, just two days before the first anniversary of 26/11, Mumbai’s brand new anti-terror outfit, Force One, was introduced to a gathering of media and police officers, apart from Maharashtra Chief Minister Ashok Chavan and his deputies on Tuesday.

Necessity is the mother of invention, Mr. Chavan said after laying the foundation stone for the Force One headquarters to be spread over 96 acres.

Of over 3,000 applications received from the State’s policemen, 500 were selected after a rigorous process, says Deputy Inspector-General S. Jagannathan, Commander of Force One.

After six months’ training, 216 commandos made the grade. Trained on the lines of the National Security Guard (NSG), they need only three seconds to draw out a revolver, cock it and fire six bullets.

“The commandos practised day and night till their fingers bled,” he says.

Force One, trained in the use of sophisticated arms and explosives, demonstrated its rapid shooting skills. While the NSG has a regional hub in Mumbai, Force One is expected to be part of the initial response to a terror strike.

“We are ready to act and defuse a situation created by a terror strike,” Mr. Jagannathan avers.

Trainers from abroad have helped Force One and the Quick Response Team (QRT) attain a high level of preparedness.

Force One takes 15 minutes to get ready and respond to a terror strike. It has an array of AK-47s, MP5 and Glock pistols, apart from shotguns, underbarrel grenade launchers, breeching equipment and explosives at its disposal.

The 216 jawans have been trained in Pune, apart from the College of Military Engineering and the High Energy Materials Research Laboratory of the Defence Research and Development Organisation.

Post-26/11, the government has pumped in over Rs.126 crore to upgrade equipment, train personnel and set up Force One, apart from expanding the QRTs. This year the budget could be about Rs.102 crore.

Additional Chief Secretary (Home) Chandra Iyengar says everything has changed after 26/11, especially strategic thinking. There is an understanding that you need a specialised force to tackle terror, she says.

There are 39 assault teams, one in each division equipped with AK-47s, 9mm carbines and other equipment, which will be the first to respond to a terror attack.

The QRTs will be the second line of response with their sophisticated arms. Mumbai alone has about 1,500 trained personnel. Force One will come in next.

Coastal security has also been upped with 12 police stations along the shore and the introduction of “Sealegs,” an amphibian vehicle. Eight boats have already arrived from the Goa Shipyard and 29 have been ordered, Ms. Iyengar says.

There are 30 private trawlers helping the police, and fishermen have also been given SIM cards to keep in touch with the police. About 30,000 identity cards have been issued to fishermen, it is learnt.

In terms of intelligence, which was said to be a major lapse during the November 26 strike, there have been systematic attempts to upgrade it and 345 new recruits have been taken on to bolster the department. There was much criticism that the Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) were not followed and the Ram Pradhan Committee criticised some of the police and government responses. However, the government has not made the report public.

Compared to last year, certain things have changed — the government is no longer scrimping on money for security and there seems to be a system in place.

Home Minister R.R. Patil announced on Tuesday that the expenses for security would be part of the State’s development spending.

Can all this guarantee the safety of the average citizen? Police Commissioner D. Sivanandhan is absolutely confident that it can.

“We have the mental courage, the morale of the force is high and we have all kinds of new equipment and highly trained personnel.”

From bulletproof jeeps and boats to state-of-the-art weapons, QRTs, an NSG hub, a refurbished bomb squad, 39 combat vehicles with 586 men, and amphibians, apart from 500 new beat marshals, an alert citizen hotline, a coastal security unit — the list is endless.

“The new Standard Operating Procedure has been tested a few times and the 43,000 officers and men of Mumbai are ready for anything,” the Commissioner points out. “Our response from now will be well rehearsed and better calibrated.”

Well, Mumbai certainly hopes so!

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