| An NSG officer searches for evidence at the public toilet at Patna Junction on Monday where the first explosion occurred on Sunday. Picture by Deepak Kumar |
The blasts at Gandhi Maidan have raised questions about how to secure large grounds that have been usually used for hosting mammoth political rallies.
Security personnel, who spoke off the record, said the explosions have served as an eye-opener on what measures would henceforth have to be taken to protect venues of public meetings.
The first blast at the Patna Junction railway station took place at 9.30am. At least 130 minutes passed between that explosion and the first blast at Gandhi Maidan, which occurred at 11.40am.
“It’s a Herculean task to seal off a ground as large as Gandhi Maidan, especially when lakhs of people are expected,” said a police officer, who didn’t wish to be named.
The Maidan, in the heart of Patna, spans over an area of 62 acres and has 11 entry and exit gates. Of these, 10 were open to the public and one was reserved for VVIP use.
Sources told The Telegraph today that it was a case of just giving orders about dos and don’ts to a clueless posse of policemen for more than two and half hours. “The cops were without a set plan right from the start. Most of their energy was concentrated on streamlining traffic in the city and they never thought about strengthening security in case of such an emergency. They were partially prepared for accidents but never thought about blasts. Once the station blast was reported, it was total confusion and chaos. One can say that it was just a string of phone calls and directives for more than two hours, nothing else,” a source said.
However, Patna senior superintendent of police Manu Maharaj defended their action. “Soon after the first blast at Patna Junction, the police were successful in arresting one of the attackers. Interrogation followed immediately and the police were told that some more bombs had been planted at Gandhi Maidan already. The police rushed to the spot but by then three explosions had occurred. The police were successful in containing the situation and did not let people panic. Four unexploded bombs were recovered. Police did a good job,” he said.
The Patna police source said to secure rally venues, one would have to henceforth sanitise the ground days in advance. “Entry and exit would have to be limited to one gate each. Metal detectors would have to be installed at the entry gate and frisking would have to be carried out,” he said.
No gate at Gandhi Maidan had been provided with doorframe metal detector nor were policemen equipped with hand-held ones. “Directions came from the higher-ups as well as the district control room giving information about the station blast. The cops posted around the Gandhi Maidan were asked to be on alert. But by then, it was too late as many people had entered the Gandhi Maidan. Around the Gandhi Maidan area, the scene had turned chaotic by 11am with huge crowds turning up and entering the Maidan. The police just could not control them and people could be seen jumping into the greens through the fences. Moreover, a majority of cops, especially the constables, Patna Rapid Action Force (PRAF) jawans and STF personnel among others stationed around the Gandhi Maidan did not have any clue about the station blast. They were very casual; some busy in stopping people from moving to the main gate of the Gandhi Maidan from the JP roundabout while others cooled their heels in shady spots and vehicles. Cops were seen standing and just looking at the people who were jumping through the fences. There was no management of any kind,” put one of the officials.
The official added with some unexploded bombs being recovered at the station toilet, the men in uniform thought it was the end of the story.
The police brass accepted that it was a huge challenge to protect rally venues. Patna senior superintendent of police Manu Maharaj accepted that the size of Gandhi Maidan did make it difficult to secure it completely, but he added that it can be done. Maharaj accepted that some loopholes were there in the security arrangements yesterday. “We will ensure that such loopholes don’t remain unaddressed for future rallies,” Maharaj said.