In 1993, as state officials started grappling with the news of 13 blasts across the city, there was some suspicion that only the “mafia” had the wherewithal for such an act. In July 2011, when the news of serial blasts at Dadar, Zaveri Bazaar petered into the state secretariat, senior officials didn’t have to bat an eyelid before declaring it a terror attack.
In the past two decades, since the 1993 blasts in Mumbai, the state government’s entire security lexicon starting with the “enemy” has undergone a sea change. In between, the city has witnessed 12 blasts and one brazen attack that together left nearly 710 persons dead and scarred Mumbaiites time and again.
Security experts and state officials admit that the red-faced government has learnt some of its lessons the hard way, especially post the 26/11 attacks, but keeping the country’s financial capital safe will require a more serious and sustained effort.
“For a long time and until the 26/11 attacks, the attitude in the government was that these blasts were the handiwork of criminals and fundamentalists within the country (even though in the system, everyone suspected a link between outsiders and home grown elements),” said Chandra Iyengar, who took over as home secretary of Maharashtra post 2008 attacks and was in the state secretariat during 1993 blasts. “The 26/11 attacks redefined terror and changed the response of government.”
This change is perhaps best highlighted in its justice delivery mechanism. The 1993 blasts took two decades to reach a conclusion. Pakistani terrorist Ajmal Kasab was hanged within 4 years.
Post 26/11, the state hiked its security budgets, got in modern weaponry, upgraded the Anti-Terrorism Squad (ATS) and set up elite commando wing Force One. But intelligence gathering and co-ordination is poor and wound in red tape, and the surveillance upgradation through CCTVs is still on paper.
“We have come a long way, but there is no overnight solution. Tackling terror requires continuous upgradation and investment,” said former chief secretary Johny Joseph, who led the state administration in 2008.