It’s the sea route, stupid!
What happens if another ten come from the same sea route and create mayhem, even while we protect the Taj as if nothing else matters?
November 2006: Union Home Minister Shivraj Patil: Our coastal areas are coming under increased threat from terrorist groups which have decided to use the sea route to infiltrate into India. They plan to induct arms and ammunition through the sea routes.
May 9, 2007: Patil: As per available reports, Pak-based terrorist groups, particularly LeT, have been exploring possibilities of induction of manpower and terrorist hardware through the sea route.
December 8, 2007: National Security Advisor MK Narayanan: There are now certain new schools that are being established on the Pakistan-Afghanistan border... Training has become extremely rigorous - it is almost frightening in nature... Studies are being carried out about important targets, with regard to vulnerability, accessibility, poor security, absence of proper counter-terrorism measures etc. The sea route, in particular, is becoming the chosen route for carrying out many attacks, even on land.
March 11, 2008: AK Antony: Necessary steps are being taken to strengthen the search and rescue infrastructure of the Indian Coast Guard...
November 13, 2008: PM Manmohan Singh: Terrorism and threats from the sea continue to challenge the authority of the State.
November 22, 2008: Shivraj Patil: To control terrorism in the hinterland, we have to see that infiltration of terrorists from other countries does not take place through the sea routes and through the borders between India and friendly countries. The coastlines also have to be guarded through Navy, Coast Guard and coastal police.
On 26/11, despite all the threat perceptions and intelligence reports of an imminent attack, Mumbai was attacked by ten terrorists who entered through the same route - the sea!
India and Mumbai fail to learn lessons in coastal security breaches. In 1993, India faced its worst-ever terror attack when Dawood Ibrahim perpetrated 13 simultaneous explosions that rocked Mumbai. In all, 7,000 kg of explosives were brought from the sea to carry out those attacks. The Coast Guard and Navy were ready for eventualities, even then.
A decade and half later, despite intelligence reports aplenty, ten terrorists arrived at another spot along the ragged coastline of India's financial capital before they split up and moved to key locations to wreak havoc. It's scary yet true. In case of another terror attack, Mumbai's security personnel will be caught - once again - ill-prepared and twiddling their thumbs. The city is far from being immune to an imminent blitzkrieg.
The Coastal Security Scheme was launched in March 2006 with a Rs 400 crore outlay and a recurring expenditure of Rs 151 crore to be implemented over five years. It envisages 73 marine coastal police stations, 97 check-posts, 58 outposts and 30 barracks. Though 55 of these police stations have now come up, the manpower available is inadequate and ill-trained. The marine police stations are supposedly operational - without the 204 patrol boats approved for them. Despite the Coastal Security Scheme being underway the breach by the 26/11 terrorists indicates that there are gaps that can be breached.
"A lot more needs to be done where coastal security is concerned," says a Navy officer. "The State desperately needs to set up coastal police stations, issue fishermen identity cards and get some kind of a transponder like the AIS (automatic identification system) that can track ships successfully," he adds.
Mumbai's Machhimar Nagar that lies opposite Budhwar Park, where the ten terrorists first alighted from their inflatable dinghy to spread across south Mumbai and wreak havoc on November 26, is being manned by merely two policemen seated at a pre-determined spot. "Aur agar kisiko aana hai to kidhar se bhi aayega. Mumbai ka coastline nahin to Maharashtra ke coastline se hokar," says one of them in exasperation. "Paani mein coastal security accha hona chahiye. Yahan zameen par kya kya kar sakte hain." (If someone has to come, he will come from - if not from Mumbai then Maharashtra coastline. There should be good security on water. How much can you do on land?)
"Having two policemen seated at a spot at Machchimar Nagar makes little sense. There are hundreds of boats plying on the sea near Machchimar Nagar. You need to have at least five coast guards with a station that's located at a decent height above land to be able to view sea-bound traffic from a distance. This is a sham. The presence of two policemen won't serve any purpose. If there was an influx of terrorists again from this very spot, they'll never even get to know," says a Budhwar Park resident.
So, an entry point at Chowpatty, the site where the crossfire occurred, has been cordoned off as if in anticipation of a terror influx from within the sea or to block off a potential escape route through sea.
"Not a single policeman keeps an eye on the sea-bound traffic which continues to ply without any fetters. There are loads of boats plying to and fro from the Gateway of India to Elephanta and Mandhwa. It surely wouldn't be difficult to smuggle someone into the city from the sea right under the nose of the police busy keeping Taj secure," says Colaba-based scribe Akshara K. "Nobody even bothers to check who gets on and off the boats off the pier. Shouldn't that be of prime importance considering that the attacks took place from the sea itself?" she asks.
A battery of security personnel guards the Taj onto a huge section of the public road all around that lies barricaded and beyond public reach or use. Armed police personnel have been taking aim at the structure with automatic rifles in anticipation of another terror attack at the same structure: all this, a good nine months after the attack.
Meanwhile, located bang opposite the Colaba Police Station, it was at Leopold Cafe, where Hafiz Arshad and Abu Uma fired through AK-47 assault rifles indiscriminately before lobbing a grenade killing ten and injuring several others. Instead of scaling down the risk factor by frisking visitors, even foreigners as the most obvious security measure, the café has instead milked the terror controversy dry. While 'jumping back to normalcy' within hours, the restaurant proudly showcases bullet marks on its glass panes, cupboards, side panels to anyone keen on seeing, photographing and spreading tittle-tattle all around. It provides for great publicity to the touristy crowd - a brush with Mumbai's 'terrific' history, however tragic and replete with goof-ups.