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Security of Golden Temple to be beefed up

A day after four pilgrims were hospitalised after consuming 'parsad', which was suspected to have been laced with some poisonous substance, banners have come up inside the Golden Temple complex appealing the public not to accept any form of (eatable) offering from unknown persons inside the shrine.

punjab Updated: Dec 03, 2013 22:36 IST
Harkirat Singh

A day after four pilgrims were taken ill reportedly after consuming 'parsad' laced with toxicant, the Golden Temple authorities have put up banners on the premises cautioning the visitors not to accept any eatable from unidentified persons.

Though the banners - installed at three different spots along 'parikrama' of the shrine - are in Punjabi, a language which most of the devotees coming from outside Punjab are not familiar with.

However, considering the varied nature of visitors coming to the shrine from across India and abroad, Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandik Committee (SGPC) chief Avtar Singh Makkar immediately ordered the installation of permanent boards at various spots, including at the entry of the main shrine, to be written in three languages - Punjabi, Hindi and English.

Makkar visits CCTV control room

Expressing regret over Monday's incident, Makkar told mediapersons here on Tuesday, "We will further strengthen the security apparatus in and around the shrine. Despite cameras scanning almost the entire shrine complex, we will ask the SGPC staff to be watchful."

Makkar paid a visit to Room No-50 along the parikrama. This is the control room of the CCTV close circuit cameras that have been installed at various points inside and outside the shrine.

The control room gets a copy of the daily duty rooster of the SGPC Task Force and of 'sewadars' on duty along the 'parkirama' and at various entry points and at the Darshani Deori. The mobile phone numbers of those on duty are also there in this rooster.

The moment any suspected movement is noticed on the LCD screen, the control room sounds the concerned sewadar or the task force member.

However, operating through mobile phones at times can give the suspect time to get away with, especially when the mobile phone of the sewadar is engaged.

Considering the limitations of the mobile phone in security operations, the SGPC chief directed his staff to equip the control room and the sewadars on duty with walkie-talkie. Training on handling of these sets will also be provided.
At present, there are around 100 sewadars on duty along the parkirama and at the four entry points to the shrine. Makkar has decided to increase this number.

The suspects

Briefing the SGPC chief of Monday's incident, a control room staff showed the CCTV footage of a person moving from the Darshani Deori side to the Clock Tower entrance. He pointed out that all the four devotees would have received the prasad from the strangers somewhere between the Akal Takht and Darshani Deori. While one of them collapsed there, the other three collapsed after reaching their hotel.

"The cameras probably could not pick the suspect or suspects offering the toxicant-laced prasad to the victims, as there was a heavy rush of devotees on Monday on the occasion of 'Amavasya'. The cops too were shown the footage, the official told Makkar.

200 cameras scan the shrine

As many as 200 cameras scan the shrine complex, which also includes the 'serais' (inns) and the SGPC offices. While some parts of the shrine were covered under this security project three years back, the remaining portion was covered about a year back. While high defination (HD) cameras cover the Darshani Deori. There are both stationary and moving cameras at the shrine that cover parking areas outside the complex, 'Jora Ghar' (shoe store), the information office and 'Toshkana', where the cash and other offerings are stored.

In the next phase the SGPC will be installing HD cameras in the sanctum sanctorum.

The security system put up by the SGPC cannot be judged on the basis of just one or two incidents. "Since the installation of the cameras, we have been successful in checking the incidents of pick-pocketing and stealing inside the shrine. A number of bad elements were also nabbed, said Makkar.
A SGPC official pointed towards 60-70 photographs of unsocial elements pated at the control room.

Almost 95% incidents involve pick pocketing or stealing", stated a control room official while showing a youth with cut hair in one photo and supporting a turban and a long beard in another photograph.

No record of the incidents

Though the control room got no official records of the incidents; on an average 10 to 15 cases of stealing or pick pocketing are picked up by the CCTV cameras. The involved were nabbed in almost all the incidents.

A favourite spot of thieves is the Dukhbhanjani Beri, where a large number of devotees take a bath, said the official.

"Our primary duty is to nab the suspect, but we are equally concerned about recovering the stolen money and handing it back to the owner,"said a SGPC employee while explaining that the footage can be stored for a maximum period of seven days.

Recent incidents

1) In June, a 4-year-old child was kidnapped by a woman (40s) while he was sleeping alongside his mother in the parikrama at night. The child was later found abandoned near Gurdwara Shaheeda and was handed over to his parents, who were from Ferozepur.
2) In August, a sewadar was caught stealing `80,000 during the counting of the daily offerings at the toshakana. He was handed over to police and a case was registered against him.
3) In October, a thief stole `1.25 lakh from a devotee while he was taking a dip in the sarowar near Dukhbhanjani Beri. He was nabbed and the money was given back to the devotee.
4) Last Saturday, the latest version of Apple mobile phone, which is not available in India, was picked out of the pocket of an NRI near Darshani Deori. The phone costing around `50,000 was given back to its owner.

Makkar's fresh move

1) Warning boards to be installed along parikrama and at the entry points in Punjabi, Hindi and English.
2) LCDs TV to be installed at Langar Hall and Jora Ghar at Clock Tower entrance and Atta Mandi entrance giving important information to devotees in English, Hindi and Punjabi.
3) Information Office staff and sewadars to educate devotees on safety of their belongings
4) ID-cards to the SGPC sewadars stationed along the parikaram and at entry points
5) Walkie-talkies to be made available
6) To increase sewadars numbers