Vigilance, intelligence, public dialogue will make cities safer

Sanjeev Dayal, former Director General of Police (Maharashtra) speaks to Urban Update and gives a ringside view of the safety mechanism in our cities. In the freewheeling interview, Dayal suggests a range of solutions to control and mitigate terrorist attacks, and improve safety of cities

We have seen in recent times that urban centres across the globe have come under attack from terrorists. That has brought the question of urban safety to the fore. How vulnerable are the cities today across the globe?
The kind of attack that we have seen in recent times, this is not something that any police force in the world or any government in the world can stop, to say that a lot has happened in our country or our city. You can stop it up to a point but you cannot totally rule out such attacks that are taking place.

Why do you think urban centres are being chosen for attack?
Amongst the cities that have been attacked so far, the common thread is that the terrorist has found or had readymade centres available to them. Secondly attack in a major city attracts worldwide attention whereas attack on a rural area would not bring them that kind of publicity.

In other words you are saying that because it makes bigger news and brings more attention that is why big cities are chosen for attack. What kind of preparation is required to stop such terror attacks? Is it possible?
As I said it is not possible to totally eliminate or stop these kinds of attacks.Let us first understand that the call is being given to people across the globe. It is not necessary for them to cross the border and go to the theatre of war and fight there. Instead they can do spectacular attacks where they are. If you recall that Australian security services had intercepted a module which was planning to behead the foreign tourists in public there. In Mumbai too, a person had planned to bomb the American International School. So it can be a vengeance attack or even a small group can plan and carry out a strike here and there and it is not possible to eliminate it totally. Yes, steps can be taken to mitigate, to reduce the intensity and reduce the number of such attacks. What is required is to actively engage the community that is seen to be majorly involved.

In India also we have seen that terrorists strike the urban centres mostly, be it Delhi, Mumbai or Ahmedabad. How vulnerable are Indian cities today?
These cities are always vulnerable. There is always a need for the security forces and the government to remain vigilant. And to ensure that in case such attack takes place, responses are better and the sufferings can be mitigated. But I will repeat that it is not possible to eliminate such attacks completely. What is possible is to have a dialogue with the community which is seen as actively involved. The active cooperation of that community, by involving that community altogether can only help win the battle.

Whenever such attack takes place it is the local police which forms the first line of defense. How equipped are our police forces to deal with such situations and safeguard our cities?
I will say that if we compare ourselves to 2008 when a watershed event took place in the shape of attack on Mumbai, the forces have geared themselves up and are in a better position to tackle the situation if such an attack takes place.

What changes have been brought as far as technological advancement is concerned to prepare to deal with such situation? What technological know-how has been brought in so that security forces are well prepared if such a situation arises?
There are certain changes that have made. New hardware has been brought in which is very visible to the naked eye of the people. Hardware such as better armory, better vehicles. People have been trained to operate them and they are better placed now. So they are better prepared to deal with any calamity. These are visual changes that have taken place. Of course there has been technological upgradation that has taken place throughout the country but this is not something that can be discussed in an open forum.

I understand that completely. Are police forces given any special training for such situations because generally the responsibility of the police is to deal with law and order?
See, you cannot train the entire police force. Take the case of Maharashtra which has a strong police force of two lakh twenty five thousand. It is not possible to train each and every policeman to the level of a commando. Therefore there are special units in major cities of Maharashtra. Special units have been raised to tackle the situation and they will tackle it. The role of the local unit has been defined as per the standard operating procedures. Again what are those standard operating procedures is a confidential matter.

We have seen that India has come under attack over the years. You have been the DGP of Maharashtra Police. How has the policy framework evolved with the changing times?
There has been huge amount of discussion in Maharashtra Police since 2008. Several changes have been brought in the way we work, the way to deal with it, the training program among other things. The government has been providing all the assistance. This government also, I believe and as I have read in the media, has come out with a comprehensive policy to deal with the minorities and their perceived grievances so that the community itself, which is by and large not with this kind of terror, but certain members do gets attracted towards it, so that can be limited. The public must have the confidence to engage with the government and for that purpose a well thought out strategy has been put in place, I believe.

What is the situation of security infrastructure in our cities and the monitoring system? Like there are only a few cities where CCTV cameras are monitored round the clock. Is that a weakness of the surveillance system?
The system requires constant upgradation. So as and when the funding comes, these cities are upgrading. In Maharashtra many have gone in for this system. In Mumbai, a very ambitious six thousand camera project is being implemented. In Pune also same thing is being done and with the help of the local bodies many cities have undertaken such projects. Like Nanded in Maharashtra has already gone ahead with hundred fifty odd cameras. So, this is already taking place but I said this is a continuous affair and funds will always remain an issue in a country like India.

Looking back at your long career in the police force, what would be your prescription to safeguard our cities? What is that extra bit that needs to be done according to you?
I think as far as hardware is concerned, we are well on the way. We have taken the necessary steps. The government is supporting us and therefore, I think we are on the right path. Where we can perhaps do a little more is engagement with the community. That is minority community. Engage with them more receptively and as much as possible and at all levels that is required. Not at one level by ATS or one officer. It must begin at police station level and then it should go vertical.

You are saying that there has to be a dialogue with the minority community at the local level. But that is a different situation. We are talking about the attack that is inflicted from outside. The big question is how to deal with that? Isn’t it?
See, no attack can come from outside without local support. There can be a one off situation but otherwise that is not possible. All attacks in Mumbai and Pune have happened with some element of local support.So our task is to cut that local support as much as we can.

Have we learnt our lesson from 2008? Will you say that, and that we are moving in the right direction?
Definitely. As I told you, several lessons have been learnt. It will not be correct to say that lessons have not been learnt. There has been better patrolling put in place by the central government under the aegis of the navy and the coastguard at the sea. The state government is also playing its part. So definitely  lessons have been learnt and we are moving forward.

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