At Juhu aerodrome, only 9 guards man 400 acres at any given point

Jan 04, 2012, 09:48 IST | Bipin Kumar Singh

174 CISF personnel sanctioned by Home Ministry to defend heritage airport haven't been inducted at the airport because airport authorities say their accommodation, salary, training etc will cost them five times their income

Despite an IB alert warning of terror strikes at airports in the country, the nation's oldest and the city's only airport till 1942, the Juhu aerodrome, is guarded by 9 unarmed guards at any given hour, making the airport a sitting duck for anti-state agents to strike.

Landing in trouble: The Juhu aerodrome was India's first airport, and
now hosts a flying club and a heliport. pic/ Nimesh Dave

The Central Industrial Security Force (CISF), the centre's paramilitary outfit sanctioned for the aerodrome by the Union Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) eight months ago has still not taken charge. To find out why, MiD DAY spoke at length with the stakeholders involved.

And our findings suggest that logistical and monetary concerns have overridden the peril emanating from what intelligence agencies consider a grave threat.

MiD DAY probe
Senior officials at Juhu aerodrome said that at a time nine guards man the 400-acre airport.

"As per the existing security establishment, we have 27 unarmed guards from Maharashtra State Guard Board (MSGB) who work in three shifts of nine guards each. The local police come for patrolling, but it is their discretion how many cops they deploy. Recently, when the IB issued a security alert, 20-30 police were deployed at different points. Now, there aren't more than eight," an official said.

In the absence of a screening system, the MSGB guards handle both the entry points of the airport: one opposite to Nanavati hospital and the other near Pawan Hans Gate.

Discarded: The airport faces two big slums, Indira Nagar and Nehru
Nagar, and the slum dwellers are often seen playing cards on one of the
abandoned security watchtowers. Pic/Satyajit Desai

The airport faces two big slums, Indira Nagar and Nehru Nagar, and the slum dwellers are often seen playing cards on one of the abandoned security watchtowers. At a dozen places, the boundary walls are broken.

After grave terror threats, the MHA considered providing CISF cover to the airport. The letter approved by MHA of appointing 174 CISF personnel was sent to both the CISF and the Juhu aerodrome around May last year but till date none of the CISF personnel have arrived at the airport. "They might not ever," an airport official noted cynically, requesting anonymity. He proceeded to enumerate the whys.

"We have an annual income of Rs 12-14 crore. The calculated expenses on CISF would be around Rs 60-65 crore. According to CISF requirements, we have to complete the pre-induction formality for them to take charge. This would include an accommodation for 70 security personnel in the 3-km area of the airport. As the Juhu aerodrome is not affordable for us, we contacted builders in Thane and Mumbai but the accommodation is still overshooting our budget," the official said.

"Lodging is not the only issue. If we are getting them here, we would have to give them salary, bonus, arms, training facilities, security devices like scanners etc. We do not earn that much from the airport. We have sent the matter to headquarters at Delhi. Let them decide," added the official.

Out of the 174 sanctioned CISF personnel, 70 need to be accommodated as per the government requirements. For officers of the rank of commandant and assistant commandant, the accommodation should be 1,800 sq ft in area, for senior inspectors 1,500 sq ft and for sub-inspectors 900 sq ft.

The CISF PRO in Delhi, S K Saraswat, said, "I can only say that in this case the induction has been delayed because pre-induction formalities have not been completed."

M Yadgiri, director, Juhu aerodrome, said, "We have 27 unarmed security guards of now, and as far as CISF induction is concerned, we are working on the same."

No hangars
Sources further said that infrastructure at the airport is very poor. There are more than 60 aviation companies operating over a 100 services daily. At a time, about 70-90 helicopters are parked at the airport and there are no hangars for about 60 per cent.

"The old hangars are rented to Pawan Hans, ONGC, Maharastra government and others. We often receive complaints from operators that their costly choppers are getting damaged as they are parked in the open. We have limited infrastructure and we cannot provide hangars to everyone," said another official.

The official also said that drainage facility at the airport is running to seed.

"Till 1991, five master plans were submitted to the headquarters. The one submitted in 2010, worth Rs 700
crore, got approved. Only Rs 55 crore has been issued for the work till date," added the official

The IB alert
On September 13, the Intelligence Bureau sent out an all-India alert that a small aircraft may be used to carry out a terror attack.

Security was reinforced and checks were intensified at airports, including at Juhu aerodrome, the hub of small aircraft in western India.

Top police officials personally visited the aerodrome frequently.

In a bid to avoid a strike, authorities issued new directives including conducting special background checks on flyers, intensifying boarding pass procedures, and compulsorily removing copter battery. MiD DAY had reported about the directives on September 19 ('Boarding pass now a must for joyrides').

Area (in acres) of the aerodrome

No of CISF guards sanctioned for the airport

Rs 12-14 cr
Annual income of Juhu airport

Rs 65 cr
Projected cost that would be incurred to get CISF cover

Number of daily operations (can go up to 145 in peak season)

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