Maharashtra chief minister Prithviraj Chavan’s contentious statement that the Congress should have retained the home department has sparked off a row in political circles, particularly in the NCP, which holds the portfolio. State NCP president Madhukar Pichad and home minister R R Patil reacted sharply to the statement, calling it “unfortunate”.
Chavan also said Mumbai was ill-equipped to tackle terror. He told TOI on Friday that for over 15 minutes after the bomb blasts, he was unable to get in touch with Mumbai police commissioner Arup Patnaik or any senior police officer or bureaucrat. “There was a complete jam in the mobile network,” he said. “Even the wireless network was not functioning, since it works only within a limited radius. I have taken it up with the Centre. I am sure we will soon have a VHF dedicated network exclusively for the state government. We have decided to provide satellite phones to key IPS officials and bureaucrats.”
What did he have to say about the blasts showing up the government’s lack of preparedness? Chavan admitted that owing to rampant red-tapism and procedural wrangles, his government was not able to install around 5,000 CCTV cameras and was unable to procure sensitive weapons, bullet-proof jackets and security equipment. “We will install the CCTVs across the metropolis in a time-bound period,” he said. “As far as the procurement of weapons and equipment goes, I have personally spoken to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and home minister P Chidambaram on Thursday.”
The CM’s politically volatile comment on the NCP controlling the home ministry came in an interview to TV channel. However, he told TOI, “I was quoted out of context.”
I firmly believe that R R Patil’s performance as home minister is good. There are no differences with either Patil or the NCP-we are working in perfect coordination. What I meant was that the formula on sharing of portfolios entered into by the Sena-BJP coalition government in 1995, when the home, finance and planning portfolios were allotted to the BJP, should have been reviewed by us in 1999 when we formed the government along with the NCP. In my opinion, the Congress should have staked its claim to the home, planning and finance departments. In most coalition-run governments, the key departments are with the Congress for better coordination.”
One of the reasons for the delay in procuring weapons and equipment, said the chief minister, was that the officials involved in the process were afraid to deal with the tender process for fear of their decision being challenged. “Also, technology is constantly being upgraded,” he said. “There appears to be a huge gap between placing an order and actual procurement, and in between if there is a change in technology, our equipment will be obsolete.'”
Chavan said he was personally monitoring the progress in the investigation into the bomb blasts. “So far, we don’t have any specific leads,” he said. “There were reports that there was a suicide bomber but we don’t have specific information. It would be premature to comment without a forensic report. We were unable to draw any conclusions even from the CCTV footage.”
The chief minister said there were no leads suggesting the involvement of a specific terror group either but his government had set up 12 special task forces to track down the terror groups active in Mumbai and Maharashtra. “We will take all possible steps to restore the confidence of the people. No stone will be left unturned to keep Mumbai safe,” he said. However, he admitted that the Ram Pradhan committee report, which probed the terror attack on Mumbai on November 26, 2008, had not been implemented in toto. “Some of the recommendations have been implemented,” he said. We will implement the rest after discussion with the Opposition.”
Chavan reiterated that there were no intelligence inputs from the Centre and that the Mumbai police and crime branch had received no information on the possibility of a terror strike. “We had no information,” he said. “But in view of the serial bomb blasts, we will redraft our strategy for gathering intelligence.” Another thing he felt needed to be redrafted was protocol norms for visitors to hospitals during crises.
“My senior cabinet colleagues had suggested some regulations so that visits to hospitals could be restricted. In the last two days, we found that hundreds of persons visited the hospitals where the blast victims were; as a result, the doctors were unable to concentrate on their work. We will soon come out with new norms,” he said.
And finally, what about the politicisation of the police force, which, after the blasts, has been at the receiving end of criticism for having corroded the police? “I am not aware of the policy in the past, but after I took over the reins on November 11 last year, the entire process has been transparent,” Chavan said. “There is absolutely no politics in postings and transfers.” Economic Times