India Takes Unique Approach to Transit Security with Citizen Patrol

Aug. 3, 2006
10,000 citizens to police the rails

MUMBAI: The state home ministry has planned to set up a volunteer force of 10,000 suburban rail commuters to help police maintain security on Western and Central railways.

Deputy Chief Minister R R Patil said Western and Central railways each will have 5,000 volunteers, tentatively named 'rail pravasi mitra' (friends of rail commuters).

He said identity cards will be issued to the volunteers and they will be authorised to check commuters' bags and accost suspicious people.

Patil said shopping malls, pubs, five-star hotels, restaurants and cyber cafes will be asked to prepare their own security plans.

"The police will be there to help them," said Patil. "Providing security at every station is a near-impossible task. During peak hours, nearly 3,000 commuters enter Churchgate station every minute. You can't physically frisk everyone," he added.

Patil expressed satisfaction that the serial blasts did not spark communal tension in Mumbai. "The attack was seen by Mumbaikars as a terrorist act and not as a communal issue," he said.

Patil admitted that the police were not adequately trained or equipped to tackle terrorism. "The Maharashtra police can handle gang wars, not terrorism. The force has put its best foot forward but curbing terrorism is a different ball game," he said. Patil called for a "broader understanding" of Mumbai and its myriad sub-texts in the wake of the blasts.

"The attack on Mumbai, which contributes hundreds of crores to the national exchequer every year, should be seen as a blow to India," he said. The deputy CM, however, acknowledged the Centre's "prompt co-operation".

Delay in disposal of cases, lack of funds and Mumbai's burgeoning population have compounded the crisis, he added.

"Take, for instance, the illegal Bangladeshis in Mumbai. Detecting them is a daunting call as a Bangladeshi closely resembles an Indian Bengali and speaks the same language. The police are therefore likely to make mistakes."