14 July 2012, Mumbai: When activist Sulaiman Bhimani received a hoax-like RTI reply with a wrong phone number from General Administration Department (GAD), inviting him to come an inspection of documents at 3 PM today, little did he suspect that he would stumble on something more important than documents. As it was a government holiday (second Saturday), he did not get to see the documents that he had requested, but he discovered a shocking absence of security at the New Administrative Building. These lapses potentially gave terrorists free run of arguably the second most important building of this state, next only to Mantralaya. In a worst-case scenario, the lapses, which enabled Sulaiman to take videos and photos of Mantralaya, could have enabled a terrorist to aim a grenade-launcher at Mantralaya. and also blow up New Administrative Building. Coincidentally, this happened at a time when a high-profile conference was about to start on the second floor of the same building.
To show the potential for mischief, Bhimani took many videos and photos of several deserted floors, and took a clear shot of Mantralaya which is across the road. Accompanied by fellow activist Krishnaraj Rao, he even entered the open but deserted office of the Disaster Management Department on the 14th floor without being stopped or challenged.
ENTRANCE SECURITY IS FLAWED
The only security restrictions that the two RTI activists encountered was at the gate when they entered. The flaws are:
- The cops let them in after looking at a photocopy of the PIO’s letter, which could easily have been a cheap forgery.
- They made no effort to verify that the duo had been called for an RTI inspection on a holiday. They did not even try to phone the concerned official or the department.
- They did think it necessary to send an escort with the activists.
- As it was a government holiday, the security office was closed, and so the bags that Krish and Sulaiman were carrying were not passed through the X-ray machine. They did not have to go through any metal detectors. They were not frisked. The bags were not opened or even felt.
- The duo found that they were at complete liberty to go anywhere in the deserted building, and do anything they liked. On their way up, the duo stopped the lift at the third floor, and then on the 13th floor, where the State Information Commission is located. They went outside, saw that the floor was completely deserted, with the offices locked, and then proceeded to the 19th floor.
- When they arrived on the 19th floor of the building, like everywhere else, there was no security whatsoever.
- There are no security cameras anywhere in the building. On an off-day, a person who enters this building is free to do anything he likes, unobserved and unhindered.
At the 19th floor, which is the top floor of the building, they found GAD’s offices locked, and the lone cop on guard duty had left his cap on the table (shown in the video) and gone off, leaving his post completely unguarded. Several minutes later, a paunchy, unarmed cop who was probably in his 50s made an appearance. He was not the least bit authoritative or suspicious about the two strangers, and took their explanation at face value without checking anything. He didn’t even question them, and was easily put on the defensive, giving them a lengthy explanation about his absence.
The two then went upstairs to the small office of the “Deputy Commissioner of Police, Wireless & Telecom, Mumbai”, above the 19th floor. (The board is shown in the video). Evidently, the cops were clueless about the security lapses, and even after the duo pointed out these lapses to Inspector Prakash Chhide and his colleagues who were present (not in uniform, and evidently unarmed), they were also not alarmed or even surprised. They also took the duo at face value with ease, and made no effort to verify the reasons for their presence in the building.
In fact, Inspector Chhide was also on the defensive, and informed them that as there was a conference attended by high-level VIPs on the second floor (something the duo did not know earlier), there had to be a tight security in the building.
Shockingly, even he did not think it necessary to send someone escort them out of the building.
So, after talking to the police, and even talking to the pauncy cop on the 19th floor, Krish and Sulaiman proceeded in a leisurely way to take the stairs and the lift at will, shooting videos with Sulaiman’s mobile on several floors, including 18th, 14th and 13th floors.
They met no guards on duty anywhere on any other floor, although they were talking quite loudly and wandering around for about half an hour.
DISASTER MANAGEMENT OFFICE DESERTED
Sulaiman and Krish entered the office of the Disaster Management Department on the 14th floor, and found that there was no staff or security.The door was open. In one corner cabin, they found two junior employees (clerks or peons) chatting leisurely, clueless about any matter concerning disaster management. Sulaiman and Krish went and asked them where everybody else was, and got a vague reply. These persons made no efforts to verify the credentials of Sulaiman and Krish, and after they left, closed the door behind them. The employees actually seemed a bit embarrassed.
“Who is in charge of security of important government buildings? Surely this person deserves to be sacked,” says Sulaiman Bhimani, indignant with the severe security lapses that they found.
Krishnaraj Rao feels that the buck should stop with either the Police Commissioner of Mumbai, or the Home Minister, or both. If this government has any seriousness about the security scenario, these people should definitely lose their jobs or at least face a departmental enquiry.