HYDERABAD/ KOCHI/BENGALURU : INDIAN airports will be like sitting ducks if an attack similar to the one in Istanbul were to happen here, say experts.
Frequent flyers who commute via Bengaluru’s Kempegowda International Airport at Devanahalli have identified several shortcomings in airport security. Speaking to Express, Tirthankar Bannerjee, Head of Business Development in a private firm says, “Since the airport is in a deserted place, security outside the complex is sparse. It would be easy for terror elements to reach the security gate at the entrance without any hassle.”
Siddhartha Sharma, a Bengaluru-based lawyer says, “One of the features that require improvement is the number of personnel who man the airport.”
Hyderabad’s Rajiv Gandhi International Airport has been ranked among world’s top three airports for consumer satisfaction and standards. But when it comes to security measures, it is no better compared to any other airport in India.
Thousands of vehicles enter the airport everyday and there is no real checking at the entry point. A couple of CCTV cameras and a Central Industrial Security Force jawan keep a watch over the vehicles entering the airport. But there is no checking of luggage or people at the entry point. All you need is an ID and a ticket to enter the airport and proceed to collect the boarding pass, if you have a hand baggage.
In the wake of the Istanbul attack, can anyone deny the possibility of a terrorist holding a flight ticket and a fake ID entering the complex to blow himself up, inside the main hall where one procures the boarding passes?
A GMR Hyderabad International Airport spokesperson said: “As per the instructions from the Bureau of Civil Aviation Security, for security reasons visitors’ entry at airport, including Hyderabad airport was restricted from June 29 for seven days.”
Y Sushanth, a pharma executive from Hyderabad and a frequent flier who was recently in Istanbul, says Indian airports are better secured and more filtered in terms of global standards. “In European airports like at Paris, Heathrow, Frankfurt etc., I have seen that one need not be a passenger to go up to the baggage checking area. Even Istanbul has a very good security scenario. The question is what amount of preparedness would help us contain people who are willing to blow themselves up?”
At the Hyderabad international airport, he says, there used to be a CISF check point well ahead of the airport parking. “I don’t find it anymore. With the kind of passenger traffic and visitors we have, we should have multiple check points to screen the baggage well in advance, he added. A senior CISF official said that such check points are erected only at the time of a high alert. ‘’Different countries have different security mechanisms at airports. We follow the same security scheme across the country. Erecting screening check points well in advance is a policy decision. But we have an under vehicle scanning system at the entrance,’’ he said.
“The Hyderabad airport should take up the full responsibility of security and government’s role should be only restricted to giving intelligence and armed back up,” according to a senior airport official. “This will highly improve the execution of security measures.”
“More CCTV cameras and more armed manpower is not a solution. Better trained personnel, better profiling of people’s movement is required. We should use the technology efficiently. For instance, men in uniform are not necessarily required next to a baggage scanning machine,’’ he said.
Interestingly, in Chennai, the areas around the airport are under the control of the city police unlike Delhi and Mumbai where CISF is in charge of security.
It is easy for anyone to enter the vicinity of Chennai airport undetected, while in Delhi, there are multiple speed-breakers with high resolution cameras in the 500 metre vicinity of the airport, which slows down the vehicle and scans the number plate, and the passenger. Experts feel Chennai lacks this mechanism. “The terrorist can enter the parking lot undetected and bomb the airport like the attack in Turkey,” says a security expert.
In Kochi, one can easily roam around the airport carrying luggage without going through any screening or frisking between the entry point and the security check point. All you need is the ticket and passport. Calicut airport has at least two rings of security, with armed guards positioned at the entrances and parts of the runway and outside the terminal. The other team is at the check points inside the terminal. But the area between the entry and check point is free of scanning, leaving the airport vulnerable to attack.
Pointing out more chinks in security procedures at the airport, a passenger says that vehicles without having any formal police checks can come close to the areas where families are waiting to receive their loved ones. “Anyone can come with weapon and attack,” says the traveller, who doesn’t want to be named.