This Dasara, can Mysore make itself terror-proof?

Terror is all around and amid us. If the mongrels of murder can successfully strike at markets (Delhi), auditoriums (Hyderabad), trains (Bombay) and temples (Askshardham), what is to prevent them from aiming for something similarly dastardly in Mysore, when a multitude assembles each Dasara?

What if?

BAPU SATYANARAYANA and E.R. RAMACHANDRAN wrote to Mysore police commissioner Bhaskar Rao recently, on the security measures that need to be taken, together with with preventive measures and disaster management steps. Surprisingly, they heard from the chief.

Below are excerpts from their memorandum.

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“Dasara is around the corner. With an abundance of mungaru maley and greenery around, perhaps there will be bumper crops too to add to the gaiety of the festival spirit.

“Without sounding alarmist and without wanting to be spoilsports, we would like to caution you that it is in such circumstances, when we are least expecting it, that disaster strikes in the form of terror attacks.

“Normally when people go about their business, either shopping or traveling in a train to be with their loved ones, the ugly hand of terror rises, as we have seen over the last couple of years in different parts of the country.

“It is to the everlasting credit of the commonwoman that she is not deterred by these attacks and goes about her daily chore unmindful of another attack. Having said that, a lot remains to be done to ensure that preventive measures are taken by the authorities beforehand to avert such mishaps, and to come up with a disaster management plan should an emergency occur.

PREVENTIVE MEASURES

“The police, more often than not, function under tremendous strain due to lack of staff, proper equipment, training etc. More importantly, our politicians have come to believe that the police force exists to stop peak-hour traffic when they move around the city, to take care of their security during Independence Day and Republic Day celebrations.

“Understandably, since VIPs and VVIPs gather in large numbers, the security is beefed up and is almost foolproof during these functions and it becomes practically impossible for terrorists to penetrate the security. This creates a false sense of security and the government thinks the worst is over.

“But in reality terrorists strike where ordinary people gather in large numbers be it in markets and malls or in temples and mosques. The attack at the Lumbini Park in Hyderabad recently validates this fact.

“There should be a change in the mindset of the government—it should understand that the police force’s primary duty is equally to protect the lives of ordinary citizens. It may not be out of place to cite that after the 9/11 terrorist attack in the United States, that country has been practically incident-free since it treats every ordinary citizen as a VIP.

“Here, on the other hand, there is very little intelligence gathering, so much so, even the police are often surprised of the attack and they come to know of it only after the incident has occurred.

“Events like Dasara and Deepavali are major festivals when families visit malls, shopping centres, and travel long distances in trains to be with their loved ones and become easy target for terrorists. It is here the police, the intelligence network, the railway police will have to play a major role in preventive measures by questioning known criminals, accomplices, use of CCTV cameras in stations, etc.

“Events such as the one which occurred in Hyderabad or at the Sarojini Nagar market couple of years back in Delhi all look well planned and meticulously executed. More than 80% of terror attack is preventable and Israel practices this by making sure by having a very good intelligence network.

“Any terror attack is usually planned well in advance and is implemented with precision. Sometimes, the perpetrators gain the confidence of local people and use their assistance indirectly. It is here there should be a good coordination between various agencies to share the information and alert each other quickly.

“We have learnt in the past, the best of agencies have ignored or delayed in sharing information resulting in tragedy that could have been avoided. Poor intelligence also enables the perpetrators escape or leave the country.

“The Dasara festival in the main Amba Vilas Palace is a major event among tourists and locals for a number of reasons. The illumination of the palace complex, the music programmes, the daily elephant march during the nine days which happen in between the programmes when the Royal family accompany the pachyderm from the temple back to Palace all combine to make a festive atmosphere.

“Unfortunately we do not live in the age of innocence any more. The entire area, the Royal family, the artists are all ‘sitting ducks’ waiting for the worst to happen. Let’s see why?

a) Since the programme is free of charge, entry is not restricted. Anybody can walk in, bring in anything. No questions asked.b) The ‘Metal detector’ they had last year was a joke. People were going all around it and even if it ‘squeaked’ there was no police to question or prevent anybody.

c) True, the elephants are trained by getting them sensitized for explosives for days at a stretch. That is for Jambusavari which starts around 2’0 clock in the afternoon when things are in controlled situation with the presence of Reserve Police etc. However, in the night around 7/ 7.30 pm when there is a milling crowd around the daily procession of elephants from temple to Palace, along the route, there is not much of a security. If the elephants go berserk due to whatever reasons, there will be mayhem and people will be crushed in the stampede.

d) To cater to varying taste of different age-group and rural/ urban likings, different programs are arranged in various centers in the city. This is good and as it should be. However, this poses its own security problem in these places. The limited resource of police is likely to be stretched far to be really effective. Much remains to be done here.

e) Coordinate with central intelligence agencies and collect information on unusual activities in terms of movement of known groups, transfer of funds etc to Banglore and Mysore.

DISASTER MANAGEMENT

“Generally, all precautionary measures are taken, every detail gone through scrupulously and implemented to ensure nothing untoward happens. Yet, due to a variety of reasons, disaster strikes due to simple errors, mishaps, accidents or planned terrorist attacks. In such circumstances, are we ready?

“When we say ‘we’, we mean everybody; The police, the local administration, the organisers, the hospitals, the voluntary organisations, and finally the public themselves.

A check-list given below can be useful in situations described above.

a) In a disaster involving fire, availability of fire engines and free fire-hydrants are crucial. More often, vehicles are parked blocking the fire hydrants resulting in loss of critical time. Authorities should make sure no vehicle, including that of a VIP is parked there.b) Hospitals should have adequate blood supply of different groups with them and doctors should be available round the clock during such festivities. The critical ‘golden hour’ is important in saving lives.

c) More often, rumours fly fast and thick during disasters. District administration should have a clear procedure and a list of ‘who will do what’ in such situations. Communication over AIR and TV should be made giving the correct picture before miscreants spread rumours.

d) More often lot of time is lost due to poor coordination between the site of mishap and the hospital. At least during the period of festivities with the help of BSNL, a ‘hotline’ should be established between the district administration at site and the various hospitals, Fire stations, blood banks etc.

e) Railway Station, Bus Stands should have video facility at ‘Arrival’ and ‘Departure’ lounges with plain-clothed policemen. Voluntary organizations and NGOs have much to offer here. Their help and expertise can be made use of.

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These are just a few of the many steps which could help in ensuring a trouble-free festival season. Upon receiving our memorandum, the police chief called us for a discussion on our note sent to him and called the fire chief, the authorities at K.R. Hospital on steps that need to be taken.

Surely you have something to add to what the Police and the Fire authorities and the Mysore City Corporation Administration should do in terms of prevention and management?

Please join the debate.

Let us make Dasara and Deepavali in Mysore terror-proof. Not just this year, but in the years to come.