Ten years after Mumbai experienced the life-changing terrorist attacks on 26/11, The Better India pays homage to the heroes who fought bravely that day and their efforts to rebuild afterwards. #IndiaRemembers
The events of November 26, 2008, shook the Mumbai Police establishment to its very core.
However, despite multiple intelligence failures at every level of government, inadequate training and insufficient resources, Mumbai’s finest bravely stepped up to the task of taking on just ten dreaded Lashkar-e-Taiba terrorists, who went about intimidating the city with great precision, organisation and speed.
The devastation was palpable with over 160 dead, hundreds injured and millions more scarred for the rest of their lives. The Mumbai Police also lost its fair share of distinguished officers like anti-terrorist squad chief Hemant Karkare, Additional Commissioner Ashok Kamte, Inspector Vijay Salaskar and Assistant Police Inspector Tukaram Ombale. However, one of the brave police officers who bravely stepped up to the plate, but yet lived to tell the tale, was then Additional Commissioner of Police (Central Mumbai) and President’s Police Medal for gallantry winner, Sadanand Date.
On the night of 26/11, Date had received a call at his residence, which would kick off a chain events leading to the capture and arrest of dreaded terrorist Ajmal Kasab. After a long day at work, he had come back home without his standard issued weapon, according to this DNA report.
On hearing developments in the city, he made a beeline for the nearest police station at Malabar Hill seeking to pick of an AK-47 assault rifle. However, all he could find was an old 9mm carbine, and after gathering around a few constables rushed towards the Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus, where terrorists Ajmal Kasab and Abu Ismail were mercilessly shooting at innocent civilians.
By the time, Date and his team had arrived, the duo had left CST and were now perched at the terrace of the nearby Cama Hospital. Just before Kasab and Ismail were about to move out from there, Date and his team of constables began firing at them.
With little inkling of what the terrorists had in their possession (hand grenades, AK-47s and hand-held GPS), Date and his team walked in blind against well-trained LeT operatives. While attempting to shut the terrace door, the terrorists lobbed a grenade at the police team which blew up.
Date was struck by the splinters which flew into his hands and legs. Despite grievous injuries and loss of blood, Date continued to fire at the terrorists while sending messages to ATS chief Hemant Karkare and AC Ashok Kamte giving them their location. Meanwhile, the police team under Date continued to hold off the terrorists for an hour before he fell unconscious after losing a lot of blood.
Both Karkare and Kamte, and eventually Ombale, who finally caught hold of Kasab, would lose their lives in battling these terrorists, but they did manage to eliminate one and capture the other.
Following the horrors of 26/11, however, Mumbai Police underwent significant structural changes which included among other things increasing manpower, improving the weapons at their disposal and raising the bar on local intelligence collection, besides instituting special units dedicated to handling terror-related incidents in the city.
As the Joint Commissioner of Police (Law & Order) Sadanand Date instituted the establishment of the Mumbai Police Anti-Terrorism Cell (ATC). Along with establishing a branch of the Mumbai Police sworn to secrecy, he was also responsible for overhauling the traditional, yet outdated, policing methods that had earlier come to define it.
“ATC’s functioning is designed in such a way that apart from the force’s top officials, information collected also gets shared with Anti-Terrorism Squad (ATS) and State Intelligence Department (SID) through official channels, ensuring better dissemination of information to concerned agencies,” said an ATC officer, speaking to the Hindustan Times.
However, the remit of the ATC isn’t merely relegated to anti-terror intelligence gathering and action, but also for other critical criminal cases. Established in October 2012, the primary objective of the ATC is to ensure that such gaping loopholes in the collection of local intelligence, an unfortunate feature of the 26/11 attacks which had allowed terrorists to operate in the city under the cover of anonymity prior to the episode, are not found.
Before 26/11, terrorists were able to hide behind the cover of anonymity, obtaining SIM cards using fake documents, renting a property without acquiring the necessary documentation and conducting illegal ‘hawala’ transactions without any fear of identification.
Made up of one police officer and three constables who undergo intense training in such intelligence gathering in each of the city’s 93 police stations, the ATC is tasked with detecting these criminal elements and shattering the cover of anonymity under which they operate under.
Six years after its formation, the ATS has developed an intricate network of locals, shopkeepers, real estate agents, hoteliers, citizen groups and housing colony associations, among others, who feed them information about any activity they deem suspect.
“With the ATC cells, we have strengthened our ground level intelligence collection system. The concept worked very well, and as a result, we can now see that anonymity in the city has been reduced by many folds. It has become difficult for an outsider to sneak into the city easily and accommodate himself in a hotel, and then carry out reconnaissance to execute terrorist acts,” said another senior police officer, in a conversation with the Hindustan Times.
With their pulse on the city (also gathered through social media), the ATS has established a close working relationship with other central and state agencies like the Intelligence Bureau, Mumbai Police Special Branch, ATS and Special Investigations Department (SID).
In addition to undergoing special training with the GSG-9 (Grenzschutzgruppe 9), a special unit of the German Federal Police, Date also played a significant hand in establishing the Mumbai Police’s elite commando unit, Force One, dedicated to fighting terror elements, alongside senior officer S Jaganathan, in 2009, modelled along the lines of the elite National Security Guard (NSG).
“The police force is now equipped with Quick Response Teams (QRTs) across cities in the state. These teams consist of men who are trained better and have better weapons,” Date told The Week earlier this month.
“The jawans of Force One are far stronger and fitter than the average policeman. They are trained to handle specialised and superior weapons, equipment and situations, and the training lasts for a year. Top experts impart the training in all counterterrorism aspects at the national and international level,” he added, in a conversation with the magazine.
Force One has received training from elite anti-terror units like the famous Israeli Special Forces and acquired sophisticated equipment, arms and explosives like the MP5, Glock pistols, armoured-amphibious patrol vehicles, Brügger & Thomet MP9 and AK-103, among others.
It has also become better equipped with navigating urban environments, detecting suspicious activities and dealing with these threats. With 250 specially-trained personnel passing out of their Arey Malik Colony campus in Goregaon, northwest Mumbai, this unit is gathering further strength.
In a recent audit exercise evaluating every state’s counter-terrorism capabilities, the NSG found the police units in Maharashtra, Telangana and Andhra Pradesh to be among the best equipped. Having said that, maintaining security and ensuring the police is well prepared to deal with another 26/11-like incident is an ongoing exercise. No one can rest on their laurels just yet.
Today, Date is a senior bureaucrat at the Department of Justice in the Union law ministry. However, he has left behind a legacy to hopefully ensure the Mumbai Police is better prepared and equipped to deal with terror threats against the city. He is a true braveheart and institution builder.
(Edited by Gayatri Mishra)