Mumbai’s Marine Police all at sea
By Ganesh N - MUMBAI
Published: 25th Nov 2012 12:25:25 PM
In February 2010, 14 months after the Ajmal Kasab and company landed on the Mumbai shores to unleash carnage, the then Chief Minister Ashok Chavan admitted that the seas were still vulnerable to terrorist attack. So he proposed a dedicated Marine Police Wing to monitor the 124-km coastline of Mumbai. Eight months after Chavan’s ambitious call, the then Chief of the Western Naval Command Vice-Admiral Sanjeev Bhasin too had emphasised the same. “The police have been told to set up a dedicated marine wing with artificers, divers, engineers, etc. They must hire people who retire from navy or Coast Guard.”
The Maharashtra Government has still not learned a lesson from the 26/11 terrorist attack as lack of political will and bureaucratic lethargy have made a mockery of the dedicated Marine Police Wing that had been initially mooted.
The government’s response to set up a dedicated marine police was knee jerk as it randomly assembled officers and personnel, purchased and hired boats, announced and set up new police stations without even the structure in place to create the marine police. Such combinations were destined for disasters. Sample this: In August 2010, Constable Ramesh More (45) lost his life after he fell off the boat during patrolling. It turned out that More did not know swimming and neither his other associates who were with him during the tragedy. A year earlier in 2009, a police boat carrying four policemen, a fisherman, four operators unable to navigate the rough seas ran aground near the Bandra-Worli Sea Link and had to be rescued by Coast Guard helicopter.
As the need was felt for round-the-clock patrolling in the shallow waters up to five nautical miles from the shores, the east and west coasts are patrolled by leased trawlers on 12-hour basis. On board are three police personnel, led by a sub-inspector, who are together armed with a SLR and in some cases AK-47. However, the most disturbing fact is that at any given time on one side of the coasts there is only one trawler that is on patrol unlike the Coast Guard and the Indian Navy that prowl the seas in groups. The advantage of patrolling in groups is that there would be help always at hand during an emergency. “The night time patrolling in rough seas is a policeman’s worst nightmare come true. The policeman who are trained for terrestrial policing are in no condition to keep a watch on bouncy vessels. They just wait to get their feet back on dry land,” said a senior officer deployed in the Marine Police. The policemen on being deployed with the marine police are given a month’s training by the Coast Guard in which merely one week is spent on the boat during day time. Besides, the Indian Navy imparts training which is theoretical.
“The eastern shores being backwaters are comparatively easier for patrolling. However, the western side is different altogether with rough seas and heavy currents. It is too much to expect from the policemen to fire a weapon in the choppy seas on vessels that do not have gun mount,” said the police officer. He added that only policemen who are not able to resist the posting to the marine police are being dumped here. This means that they try to seek a transfer at the first available opportunity such as on health grounds or completion of their tenure. Thus the training and experience gained by the police personnel and officers come to naught when they are replaced during transfers.
The scenario is gloomy even on the infrastructure front. Sagari Police station that had been created after 26/11 to patrol the west shores does not have its own office. According to deputy commissioner of police (port zone) Tanaji Ghadge, the land has been acquired near Mahim and all that remains is construct a structure.
The state home department procured boats worth crores of rupees. However, due to lack of proper maintenance, the boats are lying idle or performing far below their specification. For instance, the dinghy speed boat purchased for Rs 3 crore initially boasted a speed of 50 nautical miles; now it gives a maximum speed of five nautical miles. The fibre boats also make so much noise that discreet and stealthy patrolling is not possible. The 29 bullet proof speedboats purchased at a cost of Rs 150 crore failed to withstand the bullets during tests. The four Amphibian Sealegs, which are speedboats with wheels, are too giving frequent problems. “The boats are being maintained by the police motor transport department where buses, trucks and other road vehicles are repaired. Though the engines are the same in truck and boat, there are several other things in a boat that an engineer or a technician from the motor transport department would not know,” said the police officer.
The Coast Guard, which patrols the seas from five to 200 nautical miles, comes under the Union Ministry of Home Affairs and have their own helicopter for rescue and patrolling. Helicopters seem like a far-fetched thing when marine police lack even their own dedicated jetties and the home department is yet to consider the advantages of having elevated watch towers for the marine police.
- Sunday Standard