As nearly 4,500 Bappas walk their way to the Arabian Sea today on the final immersion day of Anant Chaturdashi, over 40,000 men and women in khaki stand guard on the streets of the island city. Amid revelling crowds and deafening dhol-tashas, 80,000 eyes watch for nuisance-makers and suspicious movements. As their minds make revisions of the briefs of meetings and rounds of dress rehearsals, their untiring legs keep them standing for over 18 hours. Their aim is not just the regulation of the lakhs moving with the Ganpatis, but also their safety and security.
"Amid continuous threat of terror attacks and growing communal tension, our aim is not just peaceful passage of the processions. We cannot rest till everybody reaches home safely after bidding adieu to the Bappa," said Milind Bharambe, Mumbai's Joint Commissioner of Police (Traffic). In an exclusive interview with The Sunday Guardian, he revealed details about the months of planning and implementation that take place for the 10-day Ganeshotsav.
Apart from nearly 40,000 personnel of the Mumbai Police, 10 companies of State Reserve Police Force and two companies of Indo-Tibetan Border Police have been deployed in Mumbai. They will oversee the movement of the 4,600 of the public moving with the Ganpatis and 30,000 household Ganpatis during the immersion procession. Traffic movements on all the arterial roads have been changed for Ganesh procession movement. Police have already appealed to people through various media channels to stay indoors. "We have appealed to people not to leave houses unless there is something urgent. They may get stuck in traffic," he said.
A day before the procession, the police take charge of roads through which the immersion procession passes. They remove all the vehicles, turn the roads into no-movement, no-parking zones. This task itself is quite herculean. Throughout the city, there are 88 immersion points. To ensure smooth passage towards them, 49 big roads are closed for vehicular traffic. 55 roads are converted into one-ways. Heavy vehicles are prohibited entry on 13 roads. There is complete parking restriction on 95 roads. Helplines are set up at prominent places to help citizens find missing persons, and provide other facilities. Over 10,000 volunteers from various social organisations chip in to help the police with crowd management. "One of the biggest challenges during such a crowded event is from within. With such a huge deployment of police from various branches, the internal challenge is knowing your own officers. At any big location, there is deployment of officials of Crime Branch, Local Arms Unit, Special Branch, sectional police. On the day of the immersion, the challenge is that all these men and women who have probably not seen each other earlier, have to work as a unified structure. For that, we conduct a mock-drill or full dress rehearsal named 'know your officers'. This helps the force identify any outsider element in uniform on the day of the procession," Bharambe said.
The preparation for the festival starts at least a month in advance when meetings are held at various levels to take stock of the situation. "From the police stations, data is collected about possible trouble-makers. All the NCs (non-cognisable offences), whether on record or off-record, are taken into consideration. The main aim is to fuse tension in the area. Police presence on the streets is increased. This acts as a deterrant, and also aids intelligence gathering. The constabulary has developed liasoning with the people on field. The karyakartas (workers) of Ganesh Mandals share a rapport with the police, so the day-to-day activities run smoothly," he said.
Considering that big Ganpatis from Mumbai like Lalbaugcha Raja, GSB Ganpati are famous throughout the country, people from various states visit Mumbai to pay their respect to them. "The floating population is a huge challenge. Not all are devotees. They need to be screened carefully. At places like Lalbaugcha Raja, where nearly 20 lakh people visit in a period of 10 days, such monitoring process becomes very cumbersome even with the presence of CCTV cameras," Bharambe said.
At present, nearly 250 CCTV cameras have been installed. By October 2016, 6,000 digital eyes will keep a watch on the city. The police also have to keep vigilance at communally sensitive areas, especially during early morning period, he said. "That is the time when there are thin crowds. Trouble makers create problems typically at this time. So the force has to be on the roads to avert any nuisance," he said. The police also have to work proactively to avoid clashes among drunken workers of various Ganesh mandals on immersion day. Another challenge is women's safety. Women police personnel make rounds of crowded places in plain clothes. "These women police officials act mainly as baits. The eve-teasers don't know that they are police women. When these women notice any suspicious movements, they raise an alarm, helping others to nab such men," he said.
Various rounds of briefings, spot-briefings and reporting are conducting before the D-day. "This is being done by the force for years at end now. So the traditional know-how is passed down from the seniors to the juniors," he said.