Paris under siege on November 13 was uncannily like Mumbai seven years ago. In Paris, seven terrorists gunned down people quietly having dinner at roadside cafes and many more at a music concert. In Mumbai, ten terrorists gunned down people having dinner at two five-star hotels and a popular café, and so many commuters on their way home after a hard day at work.
But there was a big difference. In Paris, it was all over in three hours with security forces swinging into action swiftly. In Mumbai, the siege went on for nearly three days as the security forces took hours to come up with a coherent response.
This begs the question, is Mumbai safer now?
Several security experts and police officers Hindustan Times spoke to say the response to a terror strike would be much more effective and organized today. In the wake of 26/11, a hub of the National Security Guard has been set up in Mumbai and its commandoes can reach any spot in the city in half an hour. Seven years ago, it took the NSG nearly four hours to get here from Manesar.
The Maharashtra police have also set up their own commando unit, Force 1, that is trained to tackle terrorists in an urban setting. And most important, the Mumbai police have quick reaction teams positioned strategically in each of its five zones who can reach any trouble spot in their area within 10 minutes. These teams have been trained to engage and keep at bay up to four terrorists at a time, claimed a Mumbai police officer. The role of these teams is crucial as they will have to establish a perimeter and contain the threat till the Force One or NSG arrives.
V Balachandran, former special secretary in the Cabinet secretariat and a member of the government-appointed committee that evaluated the security response to 26/11, said, “From what I have been told, the Maharashtra police has improved a great deal from what it was when 26/11 happened. There has been procurement of modern weapons and vehicles, and one regularly sees these vehicles patrol the streets.”
Besides, the flaws in the standard operating procedure (SOP) in responding to a terrorist strike have been ironed out after 26/11, said police sources. Now, the Mumbai police commissioner can call in the Force One after a quick assessment of the situation, and the Director General of Police can take a call if the NSG which is stationed at Marol in Andheri (East) has to be roped in. Seven years ago, a lot of time was wasted deciding who could call in the NSG.
“If a situation like 26/11 emerges today, Force One will reach South Mumbai within 20 to 25 minutes,” said a senior police officer requesting anonymity. Force One, the officer said, had evolved since its formation and its exposure to elite counter-terrorism drills have made it a reliable force.
But what about the ordinary beat constable who remains ill-equipped and ill-trained to counter a terrorist threat. Balachandran says the Mumbai police was a civilian force, and did not want to deter citizens from approaching them.