Shocking! Mumbai Metro security uses 1857 era guns fit for museums

The Mumbai Metro is here and all is forgiven as eager Mumbaikars travel for the first time on an 11 km line with air-conditioned trains. So what if Delhi already has 190 kms of metro lines with similarly comfortable trains and another 160 kms will be added by 2016, the Mumbaikar can at least lift his head now, even though holding his head high may take a few more decades given the pace of infrastructure development in Mumbai.

And while the Reliance Infrastructure-driven Mumbai Metro One Pvt Ltd (MMOPL), has brought in innovation and features that don't exist even on the Delhi Metro, besides the concept of customer care, which has come to trains in Mumbai a good 161 years after the first train in India ran in Mumbai, one aspect everyone seems to have missed in all the hoopla, aided by the dramatic crossing of swords over fares between the Maharashtra Chief Minister and the MMOPL, is that most critical of factors in mass transit today--security.

Mumbai has already witnessed the horror of 26/11 on November 26, 2008 when high profile public places were attacked by Pakistani terrorists. The Indian security establishment has also not taken the recent brazen attack on Karachi airport in Pakistan lightly, issuing a nationwide alert to airports in India.

But if you consider symbols of a progressive India, a spanking new Metro station with flashy trains is as good a target as an airport terminal, especially if it is lightly guarded as compared to airport terminals. The problem is that the security planners on Mumbai Metro may have factored in bomb attacks which have taken place thrice on Mumbai's suburban railway network, with the last and most lethal one in July 2006 claiming the lives of over 200 Mumbaikars as seven bombs went off in quick succession on the Western line of Mumbai's railway network.

 Shocking! Mumbai Metro security uses 1857 era guns fit for museums

Mumbai Metro is seen in this file photo. Reuters

So, you have handheld explosive detectors and all bags are X-rayed. But with the massive crowds milling around and the complete chaos at key Mumbai Metro stations, especially at peak hours, with queues for tickets, security, etc, becoming one unholy mess, one wonders how foolproof such security measures are. In Indian airports CISF personnel take far longer to scan bags, and either the CISF personnel are utterly lazy and slow or the Mumbai Metro security personnel are only doing perfunctory checks. Most would place their bets on the latter considering the huge crowd pressure Mumbai Metro security personnel work under.

In fact, even China has woken up fairly recently to security threats on Chinese mass transit metro networks and has instituted airport style checks that have resulted in massive queues there.

But what if the attack is not via a bomb but by fidayeen, which Mumbai has already experienced on 26/11 and which Pakistan, the source of such attacks, continues to experience with alarming frequency and with elements there who would love to export such terror to India? The simple answer would be to pray, and pray hard, because while the Mumbai Metro has explosive detectors and X-ray scanners, the Maharashtra Security Force, the state government security agency in charge of security on the Mumbai Metro is using guns of the kind that are not only completely inappropriate for urban situations, but are beyond obsolete and similar to guns which were used in the Indian uprising of 1857.

These .303 and .410 muskets were discarded by the Mumbai Police and are little more than showpieces that ideally should be in museums and not used as weapons by a force protecting a world-class mass transit system from terrorists who have unfailingly used the latest weapons and technologies in every attack against India.

They are lethal yes, but have a range of nearly 1.8 kilometres or so, which is great if you are into trench warfare. Unfortunately, trench warfare saw its heyday in World War 1, which ended nearly a hundred years ago. Today, in the event of an attack and the use of these guns, a stray bullet might kill someone in the next metro station, considering that inter-station distance between most stations on the Mumbai Metro is around 1 km. In close quarter combat, which is the norm in terror attacks involving fidayeen, such weapons will do more harm than good and are of little more use than canes used by unarmed policemen and security guards. In fact, a cane might be used far more easily than a heavy, unwieldy rifle of this sort.

After all, who can forget the story of a Railway Protection Force officer named Jillu Yadav who confronted Pakistani terrorists at Mumbai's Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus on November 26, 2008 with his .303 musket only to see the ancient weapon get jammed. Before Yadav could get even one round out, the terrorists fired tens more from their modern guns and only sheer luck saved Yadav, who finally tried to hurl a chair since his gun refused to work. Most countries facing the kinds of threats India faces wouldn't even arm their security personnel with such obsolete and ancient weapons but even 26/11's shame seems to have not brought in realisation and Mumbai Metro security personnel have been saddled with these weapons.

Worse, at first glance it also does look like the Maharashtra Security Force personnel are a bit wet behind the ears. And no one can blame them, considering their organisation is just a few years old and it will take them time to gain specialisation in such roles—mass transit security is very different from neighbourhood policing and requires a different set of capabilities and training. In fact, according to a DNA report, till a day before the Mumbai Metro was opened to the public less than 10 percent of the 790 security personnel required were even deployed, which would leave any observer wondering about the quality of onsite training and familiarisation provided in a day and with the massive crowds of users the Mumbai Metro has witnessed every day since.

As for training, get ready for more shocks. According to the training syllabus of the Maharashtra Security Force available on their website, total training is over 20 days, with 100 hours of theory and 60 hours of practicals, of which weaponry is for a paltry few hours. Fidayeen attacks are rare in India and hopefully, while one may never take place again, let’s take for crowd control, which is a far bigger issue and very real on the Mumbai Metro today. Only a few hours are mentioned in the syllabus against crowd control. No wonder the security personnel look unsure and unprepared at Mumbai Metro stations.

It would have been far smarter for the Mumbai authorities to bring in the far better trained and better-armed Central Industrial Security Force (CISF) which has vast experience not only in Indian airports but also on the Delhi Metro. The Maharashtra Security Force could have been added as a layer of security initially and could have gradually taken over from the CISF and by them hopefully could have been better armed too. But in their wisdom the powers that be decided otherwise. And as a result, as of today the Mumbai Metro may be a sitting duck on some key aspects of security.

Updated Date: Jun 14, 2014 12:50:46 IST