Eight years after the Mumbai terror attacks, the Uran security alert once again showed the state government in a poor light when it came to co-ordinating with multi-level agencies and disseminating information to the public. Even as the Indian Navy quickly announced a high alert, state agencies seemed slow to react.
After the 26/11 terror attack, security agencies, along with the government had put Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) in the place for natural and man-made calamities. Multi-level disaster management cells and control rooms had been set up at Mantralaya and at police control rooms. Central agencies and municipal corporations in the Mumbai Metropolitan Region can contact the cell at Mantralaya via its hotline.
“Initially, senior police officers were not ready to accept that there could be terrorist activities involved. Except for passing on the information to the police department, the disaster management cell did not act,” said an official from home department.
With chief minister Devendra Fadnavis — who is also the home minister — away in the US till Friday night, no home department or minister spoke about the developments for hours after operations started in Uran. “Even late at night, home department officials denied that National Security Guard commandos had been deployed, even though the battalion had arrived in the evening. Minister of state for home Deepak Kesarkar spoke briefly to the media only after Fadnavis instructed him to. According to the SOP, a top-level official should have been appointed to issue statements. Home department officials spoke only after Fadnavis tweeted about the operation after 10 pm on Friday,” the official said. There was no advisory issued for schools.
On Friday morning, the home department made a mistake by linking a boat seized on September 7 by the customs department to Uran. It had even clarified that there was no threat of a terror attack any more. They issued a clarification minutes later, adding to the confusion.
In the past, the state would appoint a senior IAS officer as a spokesperson to deal with such situations.
“We need to check if the SOP was followed. It is true that the sharing of information was not done properly. Even during the London underground bombing, the police chief of the city was deputed as a nodal officer to issue statements. In the Uran incident, the same thing should have happened,” said former IPS officer Sudhakar Suradkar. He however added that it would be premature to blame government agencies in the hour of crisis.
“The disaster management cell has a limited role to play in such incidents. We passed on the information to the office of the director general. The police force has its own SOP to follow,” said Suhas Diwase, director, disaster management unit.
Kesarkar refused to comment on the lack of coordination among departments.