Bomb Alerts – Ahoy!
By Maxwell Pereira
maxpk@vsnl.com


Bomb blasts returned to Delhi after eight long years. After the last ones in 1997, we had two on Sunday the 22nd May night, miscreants chosing movie theatres Liberty and Satyam in the Central Delhi area. Acts of terrorists, for its terror and panic that whoever was behind this had set out to achieve, whatever be the ultimate goal or objective. While the Shiromani Gurdwara Prabhandhak Committee was quick to cash in on the incidents and link the blasts to Sikh resentment againt Sunny Deol’s film “Jo Bole So Nihal” which was being screened at both the theatres, the Delhi Police was guarded – merely their usual finger pointing “ISI at work”.

Delhi Police wasn’t off-track. And they have a history of working out all its blasts. They did it this time too. Within just a week they arrested two, and then again on Sunday June 5, another two. All from Babbar Khalsa, indicating that dormant Sikh terrorism has once again reared its head.

The incidents take my mind back to the paranoia ridden security scenario of the 80s and better part of the 90s, a time when no one knew where and when the dreaded terrorist would stike, or a militant would set off a bomb – leaving in its wake death and destruction. The screaming headlines then – “Police fail to prevent blast”, and the invariable claims from agencies responsible for supplying ‘intelligence’ on how they had forewarned of such imminent threat of attack. Always the accusing finger – “I told you so!” Is Delhi heading back to that kind of scenario again?

Not everyone perhaps talks about or has knowledge of the hundreds of other occasions when police get told about with annoying regularity of the alarming ‘inputs’ and are passed on fresh information that invariably warrants a new ‘red alert’ – in anticipation of every occasion, national day, anniversary of bygone events, birthdays and deaths of departed leaders. Come rain, shine or hell fire, on each occasion ‘unprecedented’ (as most media loves to put it compulsively) security steps are ensured, and the threat averted. No respite, no letting up on the intelligence inputs, to ultimately dullen the sensibilities of even the most diligent cop on the beat, driving him to inevitable cynicism under the circumstance. Leading him to quip at times – “When has Delhi Police lowered it’s guard? Has the ‘red alert’ ever been lifted?”

Perhaps it would be interesting for the common man to know what then was the state of security preparedness to meet such threats and what were the preventive measures taken; and what is/ could be the scenario now. May be as an aide de memoir for police action plans already on?

First and foremost, the task of collecting intelligence about the possible designs of subversive elements – be it by the Special Branch, the Crime Branch, or the District police networks. Is the reliance totally on the central intelligence agencies for inputs?

Then to obviate problems faced in checking within highly commercial areas, publicmen including traders gainfully used for joint patrolling anongside police personnel. Checking of lodging houses and guest houses, a regular exercise, to exclude possibilities of terrorists finding safe hide-outs there. Likewise the exercise to register every new tenant hiring a house from a landlord; the onus on the landlord to report; but without the little local police prodding this rarely happens. Every new tenant is required to be verified for antecedents.

Police stations had dedicated staff to concentrate on anti-terrorist measures exclusively. Personnel trained in counter insurgency measures. Discussions on subjects of terrorism, militancy and extremism made compulsory in briefings at police stations. Group patrolliing organized at random in crowded market places and by surprise in other areas by patrolling parties. Special attention to areas and establishments considered vulnerable to terrorist attacks – railway stations, bus terminals, cinema houses and other places of public assembly. Sniffer dogs pressed into service along with personnel, to detect explosive material. PCR staff sensitised and deployed for maximum visibility and accessibility. Most importantly, debriefing of all checking done, to rake in benefits of feedback and ensure follow-up.

Regular meetings with cinema house owners and managers, market associations, bus owners and drivers, security officers of public and private buildings, restaurant owners and similar establishments – apprising them of security precautions to be taken. Educating the public through cinema slides, announcements, and advertisements – one is so familiar with those standard instuctions never to touch an unidentified object, and to report on every suspicious person or activity!

Public utility and facility areas like bathrooms, lavatories, even garbage dumps, checked through karamcharies. Security arrangements at large office complexes – public or private, periodically reviewed, the security personnel constantly briefed. A beatwise census of migrants, be it of any community, maintained in every police station. Delhi Police uses spotters from other States too, to identify militant eelments and help maintain surveillance.

When the Americans could not work out their Atlanta bomb blasts, they wanted to know how Delhi police solved its blast cases. It is indeed amazing how Delhi Police has invariably reached every culprit to detect all its bomb blasts. While there is need to keep up this track record, it is necessary hone the preventive skills too, once again.

900 words: 06.06.2005: Copy Right © Maxwell Pereira: 3725 Sec-23, Gurgaon-122002. You can interact with the author at http:// www.maxwellperira.com and maxpk@vsnl.com

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