Though the Ram Pradhan Committee report on the terror attacks in Mumbai on November 26, 2008, has become a rallying point for the Opposition parties in Maharashtra to take the government to task, there are some incredibly valid points which could question the lackadaisical attitude of the establishment as well as private star hotels in Mumbai, and some preposterous claims on national security. Maharashtra state BJP president Nitin Gadkari has even alleged that the state government is on a cover-up mode. The committee has, it is learnt, named a few higher-ups and ministers in the report and Shri Gadkari said: “The common man needs to know the findings of the Ram Pradhan committee about who is responsible for the deaths of several police officers and citizens.” If there is any incriminating role of any minister or bureaucrat, it should be made public, he added.
The star hotels including the Taj, Oberoi and Trident have been found to have made a fatal mistake of not taking the security advisory issued by the police seriously. If the advisory had indeed been issued to the hotels and subsequent meetings with the police had taken place then a number of heads deserve to roll in the managements of these hotels. Or so thinks the committee. But then the committee has looked into the flaws in Maharashtra police alone, though the failure can be attributed to several other agencies, including the coastguard, the navy, the central intelligence and the ruling political class.
The police had received intelligence inputs in August and September last year about possible attacks on these hotels, which were promptly forwarded to the latter. The Deputy Commissioner of Police (Zone I) had also held meetings with the management teams of Taj, Oberoi and Trident to apprise them of the security measures to be taken. The police even forwarded written suggestions for beefing up security at the hotels, but none of the hotels seem to have got their act together, according to the committee. They did not ask for any additional police protection at the hotel precincts, and that is the committee’s gripe.
Other than Taj which has issued a standard response to all these allegations the other two hotels have chosen to be quiet. It may not be entirely true that the hotels were so reckless to have ignored the advisory totally, and that seeking police personnel would have helped matters in any way. Even today, the security in these hotels is lax, if you go by the rule book. But then, one should realise that these hotels belong to the industry called hospitality. The basic edict followed in this industry is to make the guests comfortable and not put them through the wringer. And it is not in the interest of the hotels to turn their buildings into fortresses. It is the state and its humongous police and legal systems, which have to provide the required security for its people, without the obvious gun-slinging policemen around. Maharashtra today sorely misses POTA.
The best example of security can be taken from countries like the UK where the Prime Minister walks to his office every morning without any kind of security personnel surrounding him. That is because the intelligence sourcing is good and police react to intelligence reports professionally. The individual institutions like hotels and their guests are not inconvenienced in any manner. The basic issue which the committee did not deal with in this debate is that if the police were so prompt about releasing the advisory, then why did it not have a full combat force ready for any terror attack? The police were caught unaware and it was the on-the-spur-of-the-moment action of the force which seems to have salvaged the situation. The situation with the police was so bad that it did not even have a proper firepower to deal with the terrorists at any of the points of attacks. The committee makes it clear that the police have not been getting fresh ammunition for more than two years, and a former Maharashtra police chief has even clarified that training of police personnel was more or less curtailed to nothing because of the lack of ammunition.
The best example, again, of the state government’s insouciant behaviour is reflected by Chief Minister of Maharashtra Ashok Chavan, who in a debate on CNN-IBN a week ago told the newsanchor that the anti-terror squad was prepared for morchas and such public disturbances and not for jehadi terrorists. When the anchor pointedly asked why the bullet-proof gear worn by the slain anti-terror squad chief Hemant Karkare looked so flimsy when compared to the police gear in advanced countries like the US or Israel, the Chief Minister told the audience without batting an eyelid, “This is the first such attack, the gear given to the squad is to deal with morchas and bandhs!”
This statement by the Chief Minister on national television was not even clarified later—so much for the sense of purpose and agility. But on the other hand, the committee has been quite straight, cut and dry when talking about police reforms needed in the state on the lines of the Supreme Court guidelines. Even though intelligence inputs could have been monitored to avert the attack, existing mechanism proved grossly insufficient. “Shockingly, top home department officials had no clue about the intelligence inputs. The additional chief secretary (home) and principal secretary (home) are expected to look into the law and order situation in Mumbai and the rest of Maharashtra. They are not only required to coordinate with the police in sensitive areas but also meet the needs of the force”, the report said in a scathing attack on the government machinery.
Even as the media is rife with rumours of three ministers being blamed for the lapses that led to the attacks, the government chose not to table the findings of the committee in the state assembly. The committee had listed out that intelligence overhaul, avoiding dual control of the Anti-Terrorists Squad (ATS), deployment of special forces trained in the state on the lines of the National Security Guard, plugging various holes in coastal security systems by deploying high-speed boats, newly-trained personnel and new police posts, filling all the vacancies in the state security agencies, the setting-up of the industrial security force on the lines of CISF and deploying private security guards for handling safety and surveillance equipment are direly needed to prevent another 26/11.
But the wife of a slain policeman has a different take on the events of November 26, 2008. Vinita Kamte, wife of Ashok Kamte, who was killed when he encountered the terrorists at Cama Hospital on the fateful night, told the press that the committee has not talked to the lower-level policemen before coming to the conclusion. One of the Joint Commissioners of Police (Crime) did not know of the exact position of Hemant Karkare nor his condition for more than three quarters of an hour. The committee headed by Ram Pradhan, former union home secretary along with RAW officer V Balachandran has inferred that most of the state systems to counter terror attacks are below par, just as various new agencies have to be involved or trained to deal with a similar situation, with a clear chain of command in place. But nothing could actually beat the Chief Minister’s own admission on the preparedness of the ATS.