The plan was to frisk every commuter entering Churchgate between 5 pm and 8 pm on Monday. But despite 296 Government Railway Police (GRP) and Railway Protection Force (RPF) personnel, 38 doorframe metal detectors, 80 hand-held detectors, two x-ray machines and two sniffer dogs, the operation collapsed a mere 12 minutes after it began.
The ever-growing line of tired, harassed and increasingly furious commuters just could not be managed.
Five minutes later, the screening began again. Only, this time, personnel frisked only one in five or 10 commuters as they passed through the detectors. Even so, the queue at the Marine Lines end of the station stretched almost up to the income-tax building (800 metres away).
The crush in the subway at the Eros Cinema end was not as bad because eight detectors were stationed there.
Around 5.30 pm, tempers flared as Western Railway’s senior managers and GRP chief Suresh Khopade got into an argument over the slow screening of passengers.
Also, two RPF women personnel complained that senior GRP officials had manhandled them.
The drive plodded along till 8 pm, as scheduled. Five of the six security committee members, who planned the operation following the state government’s insistence, have now written a note to Mantralaya advising against such drives in the future.
The drives scheduled for Tuesday at Churchgate and on November 15 and 16 at Chhatrapati Shivaji Trminus are now likely to be scrapped.
“It was a total failure. We had informed the state government that it is not possible to frisk all commuters and screen their baggage. But they insisted, so we went ahead,” said Satya Prakash, divisional railway manager, Western Railway, Mumbai. He added: “We would not have been able to detect RDX even if it was there as we did not have the right equipment.”
Prakash was under no illusions as to why the drive failed. “It is impossible to check so many people,” he said, adding, “The subway was dangerously filled up with commuters and we feared a stampede or faintings. Who would have been responsible if any untoward incident had taken place?”
A senior railway official, who insisted on anonymity, was livid. He said: “We were pretty serious about the operation. Then, we saw Khopade directing his men to allow people through without frisking them.”
He added that railway officials informed Khopade that if the drive was not conducted properly, it would be a huge waste of time and manpower.
Khopade countered that he was forced to take the decision to avoid a law and order problem. “It was impossible to conduct a 100 per cent check,” he said.
Commuters, of course, suffered the most with many missing trains and others preferring a bus to Marine Lines to avoid the check. “If someone wants to plant a bomb, they can do it anytime,” pointed out Borivli resident and LIC employee Rajan Mathew.