The Mumbai police want the venue for Anna Hazare's month-long fast to shift from Azad Maidan to the MMRDA ground at the Bandra Kurla Complex (BKC).
Highly-placed sources in the Mumbai police intelligence wing told HT on Thursday that the suggestion has been conveyed to India Against Corruption (IAC), the NGO that has sought permission for the rally. IAC has announced that Anna will arrive in the city on December 26 and his month-long fast will begin at 10am the following day.
The agitation is likely to attract thousands of people, and the police want to pre-empt any terrorist activity by relocating the protest to a more secure location. Sources said the police feel that south Mumbai is particularly susceptible to terror attacks. Several spots in the island city, including Zaveri Bazaar, Opera House and Gateway of India have been terror targets in recent years. Officials admit that access control, or surveillance, at Azad Maidan ground is an onerous task, particularly as many other protesting groups also camp at the venue.
The other concern the police have is logistics. Since the event is likely to attract a large crowd for a month, it could result in further congestion of south Mumbai, which sees lakhs of office-goers every day. Also, Azad Maidan has little parking space and vehicles of visitors to the rally would inevitably result in traffic jams across south Mumbai, police said.
To drive home their point, sources said, the Mumbai police also conveyed to the organisers that the month-long protest drawing thousands of people could rile other groups who use the venue for protests. This could cause friction between groups and result in a law and order problem.
The police feel the MMRDA ground, in comparison, is a safer and better alternative. Quoting senior officials in the Special Branch (SB) of Mumbai police, a source explained that the MMRDA ground is wide open with better access control mechanisms. Even a large congregation would not cause traffic problems and parking is not an issue in the BKC. Also, officials added that the anti-corruption rally taken out in the suburbs a couple of months ago saw a huge turnout, suggesting that Anna's support base was considerably wider in the suburbs.
Additional commissioner of police (SB), Sunil Paraskar confirmed that the suggestion to relocate had been made to the IAC. “We have made the suggestion to shift the venue for practical reasons. It is up to them to decide,” Paraskar told HT.
However, Praful Vora of the IAC was non-committal on the issue. “Right now we have not made any arrangements at the MMRDA ground and are concentrating only on Azad Maidan which has been lucky for Anna over the years,” he said. “The police's claims of congestion are unwarranted. So far, 1,000 people have registered with us. But if the number of people who want to fast increases, we might have to give it a second thought,” he said.