The outbreak of violence at Azad Maidan on Saturday afternoon left an unprecedented number of policemen injured, raising questions about the preparedness of the city’s police force in tackling such situations.
The 45 minutes of mayhem on Mahapalika Marg stunned Mumbaiites who are questioning if the police had prior intelligence and had acted upon it.
Eyewitnesses said that though there seemed to be sufficient police deployment at the venue, the police were not only outnumbered, but were also taken by surprise by the protesters.
However, the police regrouped quickly to bring the situation under control.
The presence of Rajneesh Seth, joint commissioner of police (law and order), additional commissioner of police for south region Krishna Prakash, along with the heads of various police stations, outside Azad Maidan even before the mob turned violent, indicates that the police had anticipated trouble.
Home minister RR Patil said 800 policemen were deployed at the time of violence.
Police used lathi-charge, shot teargas and rubber pellets, and finally resorted to firing in the air when the mob refused to cooperate, he said.
Eyewitness, however, say the police were not adequately armed.
"They were armed only with lathis, and their lathi-charge could not stop the thousands of people who were vandalising vehicles and assaulting people," said an eyewitness.
Others who witnessed the incident said the frenzied mob launched an all-out attack on policemen.
"The moment they saw a policeman alone, they would charge at him in huge numbers, assault him, and flee. Police were helpless," said another eye-witness.
Padmakar Juikar, senior inspector of MRA Marg police station sustained head injuries in the violence.
"I have been advised to undergo a CT scan to ascertain if the injuries are major," he said.
The question being asked is if the police force stationed there had adequate weapons to deal with the situation, and the necessary orders to use those weapons.
"The situation could have been unimaginable. Thanks to god’s grace and our hard work, the incident did not turn out to be worse," police commissioner Arup Patnaik said.