Entering Masterda Surya Sen station in south Kolkata without undergoing security checks is easy.
The X-ray machine does not work, and has been lying covered for about a month. At 10.15 am on Wednesday (July 13), three men in khaki sat beside it, equipped with two hand-held metal detectors, engrossed in chatting among themselves. It was entirely voluntary for the commuters to get their bags checked—and to pass through just ahead of the door-frame metal detector (DFMD).
In short, the country’s oldest metro is a sitting duck.
To add to the infrastructural inadequacies, even the existing mechanism to apprehend terrorists lies underutilised due to a casual approach by the security personnel. The personnel posted at the stations, too, have few sophisticated weapons to deal with attackers before reinforcement arrives.
The unprofessionalism of guards at Masterda Surya Sen station was caught in HT’s camera a week after the RPF conducted a Suraksha Sammelan to review the security arrangements and issued directives for the security staff to ‘remain on the maximum alert’.
This correspondent captured the scene at Masterda Surya Sen station in a video despite a prohibition on photography and videography. Operating since the start of the Kolkata Metro 1984, its 27-km stretch is the city’s lifeline, carrying five lakh passengers every day.
“The security arrangement at metro stations is full of loopholes. The metro rail is unprepared to combat a terror attack,” said Bikash Kumar Chattopadhyay, former assistant commissioner of Kolkata police, who is a daily commuter on metro rail.
During his career as an officer in Kolkata police, Chattopadhyay had investigated the 1993 Bowbazar blast and the American Centre attack of in 2002. A 2013 awardee of the President’s Police Medal for Distinguished Service, he accompanied Team HT to the station to assess the loopholes.
Read all the stories in this series here.
The security lapses observed at Masterda Surya Sen station are more or less the same at nearly half of the 24 stations — starting from Noapara at the northern fringes of Kolkata to Kavi Subhas at the southern fringes of the city. This reporter found that none of the security guards at Sovabazar metro station in north Kolkata was interested in scanning the luggage of the persons who passed through the DFMD.
With each metro station having two entrances, there should be at least 48 X-ray scanners. Until last week, only four of the 23 scanning machines were operational. Eight of the defunct machines were repaired in the first week of July after metro authorities got an agency for the job. That was one year after the termination of contract with the agency responsible for maintenance of the integrated security management mechanism between 2012 and ’15.
“We were forced to terminate the contract in July last year after the company repeatedly failed to provide the service it had committed,” a metro railway spokesperson told HT. “Since then, we did not get anyone. Finally, last week, an agency was given the task of repairing eight scanners,” he said, while admitting that a section of the security personnel are casual in their approach.
“We regularly identify those personnel at metro station with casual approach; we penalise them. Our officers
pay surprise visits, while the activities of the security personnel are also monitored through CCTV cameras,” the metro rail spokesperson said. The metro authorities first want to make its existing infrastructure operational and then plan to upgrade the system, he added.
ORDERS NOT FOLLOWED
On July 5, Kolkata Metro said it reviewed the “security arrangement” in the aftermath of the Dhaka terror attack. Chaired by V K Dhaka, IG-cum-CSC/RPF, Eastern Railway, Kolkata, the ‘Suraksha Sammelan’ was attended by the security commissioner, his assistant and 110 railway protection force (RPF) personnel, the Metro said.
“All officers and staff have been instructed to remain on maximum alert during their duty period to avoid any untoward incident and to counter any terrorist attack,” it added.
It is obvious the instructions had little effect on those working on the ground. HT found security was loose at Geetanjali and Kavi Nazrul stations, too.
There, again, it was voluntary upon the commuters to undergo security checks.
The RPF is responsible for security. They coordinate with Kolkata police and are posted on platforms as well, but they mainly focus on ensuring no one commits suicide. Recently, Kolkata police formed a Quick Response Team comprising 100 personnel for fast response to possible terror attacks. Yet, most of its personnel are unarmed. The members are posted at the Specialised Force Training Centre at Hastings. Kolkata metro has also decided to raise a commando platoon out of its existing force.