Car theft sets off panic button in south block
By Cithara Paul and N C Bipindra - NEW DELHI
Published: 29th Sep 2013 08:08:10 AM
It was no ordinary car theft. In a city where close to 4,000 cars were reported stolen between January and June this year, an innocuous Maruti 800 going missing from a parking lot would have been just a number but for a few vital details. The car with an Uttar Pradesh registration belonged to a Deputy Director in the Defence Ministry and sported a requisite clearance sticker issued by the Ministry for entry and exit into South Block. Worse, it was stolen from the heavily-guarded Ministry premises, exposing a serious lacunae in the country’s security apparatus.
In the national capital, where security of government buildings have been constantly on Code Red after the 2001 Parliament attack, when terror came riding in a white Ambassador sporting stickers needed for entry into Parliament premises, the theft on August 28 has sent security officials into a tizzy. The overriding apprehension is that the car has reached the “wrong hands” and could be used for a terror attacks in the capital or elsewhere.
Though a police First Information Report (FIR) was registered at the Parliament Street police station, police till date are clueless about where the car could be.
The Defence Ministry official, who lost his car, reported the matter to his seniors in the chain of command, as required under security norms in place in South Block.
However, the security lapse was kept secret from the top brass.
CCTV cameras placed around the heavily-guarded parking lot captured visuals of the official driving into the premises in the morning and the car leaving the premises around noon. But the footage is of poor quality.
“The visuals are grainy with no clarity at all. If this is the condition of the CCTV cameras installed in South Block, what would be the condition of cameras installed in other government buildings?” asked a Defence Ministry official. According to him, the footage shows a person opening the door with a key. “He must have done a recce earlier. It is unbelievable that such a thing can happen in a highly protected area,” said the official. Around 1,000 cars are parked in the lot on any given day and the area is manned by 25 Defence Security Corp personnel. The security entail is made of ex-servicemen who are reemployed to guard defence establishments.
According to the official, the fact that a Maruti 800 was stolen while there were many expensive cars around was indication enough that the motive was not robbery alone. “Nobody would take such a big risk to steal a Maruti 800 from a high security area unless there are some pressing reasons,’’ said the official. The entry sticker issued by the Ministry could also open gates elsewhere. Around two weeks ago, as an added security measure, all those entering the parking lot are being given tokens which have to be returned when the cars are being taken out. Only after thorough checks and identity being proven are persons allowed to enter and cars driven by them allowed to move in or out.
Initially, the official who lost his car was hesitant about registering a police complaint given that such a thing has never happened in South Block. “But we advised him to, as he could end up in big trouble if his car is used for wrong purposes,’’ said his colleague.