Ujjwal Nikam's phones stolen while his guards slept: Z-Plus security isn't all it's cracked up to be

When eminent lawyer Ujjwal Nikam, who has the highest level of security (Z-Plus), was travelling by train, he awoke from his slumber and put his hand under his pillow — horror of horrors — he found his cellphones that he had placed there for safekeeping were gone.

File image of Ujjwal Nikam. PTI

File image of Ujjwal Nikam. PTI

Nikam was being accompanied by his personal security officer and an armed guard. Not only that, each end of the air-conditioned coach was being guarded by the railway police while he was travelling from Dadar to Jalgaon, as reported in detail by The Times of India.

It's not so much about the loss of his phones — such thefts are not uncommon on trains — but what is galling is that such a thing would happen to the special public prosecutor who had handled high-profile and tricky cases while he was under heavy protection.

Nikam has been receiving Z-Plus security ever since he was appointed to prosecute Pakistani terrorist Ajmal Kasab. He had previously prosecuted the culprits who were involved in the 1993 Bombay bomb blasts.

Let us deal with the presence of his personal security officer and the guard, who totes a lethal AK47, coincidentally, the same kind Kasab carried. “Nikam called his personal security officer and a guard sleeping on the next berth,” the report says. The phones were “nicked from, literally, under the noses of his five security guards as they all slept.”

So, the man was robbed when he was soundly asleep – because he did not realise someone had put a hand under his pillow – confident of his safety. Because the men protecting him were, reportedly, also soundly asleep. His security shield was more of a sieve.

There is another interesting aspect to this Z-Plus security. Apparently, he gets the entire thing – vehicle, armed men around the clock – when he is in Mumbai. But when he is away, the security cover is scaled down. Normally, Z-Plus security involves some three dozen men around the clock. Thus, a chink in the armour.

From what I have seen over years in Maharashtra, it appears that security is mostly laughable. Let me narrate, as I had in the past elsewhere, a few instances of the so-called security for VIPs. Let me start with the late Gopinath Munde when he was the deputy chief minister.

We met at a hotel near the airport for a background or off-the record chat, he as a politician at the Centre in charge of policy and part strategist for the BJP in its tie-up with the Shiv Sena (the key person, however, was Pramod Mahajan, who also happened to be Munde’s brother-in-law).

Given his schedule, we couldn’t meet in the city, and a place near the airport was convenient. He did not want to talk in a restaurant and a hotel offered a room where we could meet without disturbance. When I was leaving, I spotted his security men, their weapons lying about, sleeping near the lift. Munde had Z-Plus security.

Munde’s successor, Chhagan Bhujbal of the Nationalist Congress Party, now in jail with his nephew, being investigated in a money laundering case, did not like the lumbering, bulletproof Ambassador car. The added weight did not help its pick up, and he hated slowly traversing roads, inside or outside the city.

Bhujbal preferred to travel in his Mercedes. The security personnel were having none of it. As Bhujbal explained, "In a non-bulletproof car, I was exposed to threats."

They arrived at a compromise: Bhujbal would travel in his preferred car, but the bulletproof Ambassador car would remain in the cavalcade. The trade-off: Comfort for speed.

When Manohar Joshi was a minister for heavy industry before he was elevated to the office of the Speaker of Lok Sabha, he normally got a ‘private taxi’ —  the motor transport pool did not have enough cars for the visiting VIPs because the cabinets were getting bigger and bigger in coalition government — which has now become the norm in Maharashtra.

What shocked Joshi, though he tried not to make a song and dance about it, was that each time he was assigned new drivers, but he wasn’t even sure if they were vetted properly.

So much for security.

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Updated Date: Jun 06, 2017 20:13:17 IST

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