The Mumbai police were well aware that the bulletproof jackets worn by Anti-Terrorism squad chief Hemant Karkare and at least 100 other city policemen, including Quick Reaction Team commandos, on 26/11 would not withstand shells from AK-47s.
These jackets were part of a lot bought in 2004 after they were tested by the Mumbai police. The test report, a copy of which is with Hindustan Times, showed the jackets could withstand fire from 9 mm pistols and .38 revolvers but nothing more powerful.
So why were they bought? Because the Mumbai police at the time were only thinking of encounters with the underworld and did not anticipate attacks like the ones faced on 26/11. “The [bulletproof] jackets were to be purchased in 2001 to deal with encounters with gangsters who use only small arms,” said a senior police officer, requesting anonymity as he is not authorised to speak to the media.
“We bought it three years later. How could we have seen the future?”
In defence of those who bought them, it must be said that the jackets serve the purpose they were expected to.
The tests — conducted on June 28, 2004, by the local arms division of the Mumbai police at the state police’s firing range in Goregaon — revealed that the jackets withstood bullets from a 9 mm pistol and .38 revolver fired from 30 feet away.
The same jackets, however, were of limited use when bullets were fired from an AK 47 at a distance of 100 feet. And they were no protection at all against SLRs (self-loading rifles).
On 26/11, the city police had to face heavily armed terrorists with the same jackets. For, December 2004 was the last time bullet-proof jackets were bought by the Mumbai police.
Surendra Kumar, inspector general of police (Nagpur range) and Himanshu Roy, Mumbai’s joint commissioner of police (law and order), were members of the technical committee. They were unavailable for comment, as was then police commissioner A.N.Roy.
Questions were raised on the quality of the bulletproof jackets after a public interest litigation filed in the high court claimed that the jacket Karkare worn on 26/11 was ‘sub-standard’. The post-mortem report said Karkare died of bullet injuries to his head and neck.
The state home department last week directed the police commissioner to “explain the quality of the bulletproof jackets”.
“Considering that Mumbai has faced terrorists with automatic weapons in the past and the threat perception of the city has always been high, authorities should have purchased bulletproof jackets which could withstand fire from automatic weapons like AK-47s,” said J K Dutt, former director general of National Security Guards. “It was not judicious on the part of the Mumbai police to go for bulletproof jackets which could only handle 9 mm pistols.”