It's a terror alert that's sent the defence of the realm on to a war footing: the intelligence agencies believe missiles have been smuggled into Mumbai to attack the Bhabha Atomic Research Centre (BARC).
After the Thursday warning to the Mumbai police, the Army, Navy and Coast Guard were pressed into action to virtually seal BARC from both land and sea. A combing operation of the BARC campus and scrapyards in Trombay, northeast Mumbai, for hidden explosives took place on Saturday.
Only research is conducted at BARC, where the country's top nuclear brains are at work. It has four reactors — Apsara, Cyrus, Zarlina and Dhruv. “Though three are ageing, they are safe and there is no internal or external threat to them,” said a Maharashtra home department official. “But we won’t take any chances.”
Home ministry officials said the "specific threat" to BARC differed from the heightened security arrangements made for the nuclear plants at Kalpakkam and Kaiga, as well as other vital installations in the wake of the Independence Day terror alert.
The Centre, Maharashtra chief secretary DK Sankaran and state DGP PS Pasricha were reviewing BARC security on a daily basis. "A joint meeting of the Mumbai police, the Army and Navy was held for a foolproof security cover for BARC," said a top official. "All precautions are being taken to protect the structure," Sankaran said. "We are coordinating with the agencies concerned," Pasricha said.
As BARC is close to Mumbai's eastern waterfront, the threat from sea is higher, intelligence officials said.
So high-speed Coast Guard ships and choppers have been deployed for patrolling and air cover, respectively. They've been specifically tasked to neutralize any missile attack, sources said. High-intensity cameras have also been installed along the coast.
The Territorial Army has been rushed to BARC as part of a five-layer security cordon with the police, the NSG and the CISF. "The entire plant has been declared a sterile zone and sealed," a top official said. Security has also been tightened at the Tarapur Atomic Power Station in neighbouring Thane.
Sources claimed three non-BARC persons managed to enter the high-security compound last week. As a result, a combing operation to flush out all outsiders was in progress.
The anti-terrorist squad (ATS) and the crime branch are trying to trace the missiles. Areas adjoining Mumbai are also under their scanner. Intelligence officials said the missiles could be shoulder-mounted rocket launchers (with an eight-km range), as is used by the Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jaish-e-Mohammed in the Kashmir Valley.