26 May 2024 07:06 AM


Vappala Balachandran | 19 DECEMBER, 2015

Bullet Train, National Disaster Plan, Headley: 3 Recipes For Insecurity?

Shinzo Abe and Narendra Modi at Varanasi

MUMBAI: This column is on various security issues. Let me begin with the VVIP visits which provide entertainment to the public but nightmares to the local police. The visit of Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and our prime minister to a “white washed “ Varanasi with “newly tiled public toilets” to perform “Maha Arti” at Dashashmedh Ghats was one such occasion. The much maligned UP Police managed it with success like how they always do for Kumbh Melas, the world’s largest human congregation. But apart from entertainment what do such visits produce? A survey by the Huffington Post in September 2015 gave a disappointing picture of the Ganga cleaning project started with great fanfare in 2014.

Also, the rejoicing over the Rs. 98,000 crore Mumbai-Ahmedabad bullet trains with Japanese help reminds me of the class distinction theme in Aldous Huxley’s “Brave New world”. Japanese bullet trains will carry 40,000 well heeled passengers daily in comfort like the “Alphas” in that novel who are programmed to be privileged. However the 7.5 million daily commuters who use the present overcrowded and suffocating Mumbai trains will be treated like “Non-Alphas” who are meant to be stupid. During the last 10 years Mumbai saw nearly 30,000 railway track deaths: 6,989 died by falling from the local trains due to overcrowding while 22,289 were run over while crossing the tracks.

400 commuters might have died this year due to suffocation, seizures and heart conditions due to inadequate ventilation system as reported by a local tabloid on Dec 17.

Faced with such overcrowding the rail authorities are introducing some stupid steps. First they will allow suburban passengers to board long distance trains. Whoever has planned this does not know that this will involve serious fist fights. It is a long standing tradition in the Mumbai-Pune Deccan Queen that a bogie is unofficially reserved for season ticket holders commuting daily. Anyone entering that compartment even by mistake is chased away by snarling men and women who temporarily become hyenas. The second foolish step is to allow male commuters in the “Ladies Specials” from January. This will increase crimes against women in Mumbai which had already risen by 59% between April 2013 and March 2014.

The second subject I wanted to discuss is urban disaster management plans. I was shocked to read that New Delhi has no dedicated disaster response force. The only Chief Minister in India who realized the importance of such plans to withstand man made or natural disasters is Karnataka Chief Minister Siddaramaiah who asked his Revenue Department to organize a workshop in August 2013.

I was requested to deliver the lead lecture outlining our experience of 26/11 terror attacks when the entire responsibility was dumped on the police who had to stretch themselves into other areas like rescue, firefighting and ambulance services. The responsibility of disaster management in Delhi is with the Chief Minister. He has no uniformed force under him except the Home Guards. I had written a column in this paper on July 23 this year that the Delhi Chief Minister should pass a law creating a Municipal Police as suggested by the Union Home Ministry on 21 May 2013. Had they done that they could have controlled the demolition work done on Sunday, December 13 at Shakur Basti which unfortunately led to the tragic death of a small child.

The National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) and NDRF which had received a lot of flak during the 2008 Kosi floods has improved their operational and rescue ability although they were again criticized during the 2013 Uttarakhand and 2014 J&K floods. They are now being praised for rescuing 16,000 lives in the recent Chennai floods. It is unfair to blame the NDRF who come at the last moment to mitigate disasters which had arisen due to negligence or connivance of the local governments who had chosen to overlook ecological and civic preventive planning due to pressure from builder lobby or land sharks.

The NDMA has already positioned their regional offices in most states but unless assisted by local governments, they cannot perform their role. It is the responsibility of the Delhi Chief Minister to set up a dedicated agency for disaster management laying down very clearly the roles of each organ: Civil defence, Home Guards, Municipal Administration, Police, Hospital administration, and other local bodies. Responsibilities regarding advance warning and evacuation should be notified. Evacuation routes should be clearly marked on the ground. The police should only be in charge of law & order.

The last subject I want to mention is about David Headley appearing as a witness in a Mumbai Court through video conferencing. This has been severely criticized by many: how could an individual who had done detailed plotting of the 26/11 attack be treated as a witness? I have written about this earlier and had also criticized the former UPA administration for misleading our country that Headley would be extradited to India. We should remember that Headley is not within our government’s control. He is in a US prison since January 24, 2014 having been sentenced to 35 years. In addition he has to undergo 5 years of “Supervised Release”. So any chance of his coming to India to stand trial will happen only in 2054!

This situation is based on a 35 page “Plea bargain” agreement on March 18, 2010 between him and the State Attorney at the Illinois Northern District Court. He pleaded guilty on three conditions to a dozen US federal terrorism charges, including planning the 2008 Mumbai terrorist attacks and attempt on the Danish newspaper. Firstly he would not be given death penalty. Secondly he would not be extradited to India, Pakistan or Denmark. Thirdly “Sentencing guidelines” would be followed. In return he agreed to fully participate in any debriefings for the purpose of gathering intelligence or national security information. He also agreed to testify in any foreign judicial proceedings held in the United States by way of deposition, video-conferencing or letters rogatory when directed by the United States Attorney’s Office. This is what he is now doing in Mumbai. We need his testimony to fully understand Pakistan’s conspiracy. This would enable us to mount pressure on Pakistan. The Kasab investigation and trial had revealed only one dimension.