Be our eyes and ears, cops tell shopkeepers

Intelligence failure during the 13/7 blasts last year makes Mumbai police reach out to 2,000 hawkers, shopkeepers urging them to report any suspicious acts or elements

The Mumbai police, eager to buttress a disintegrating informer network that failed them during the 13/7 blasts, have decided to tap into shopkeepers and hawkers as potential sources of intelligence inputs. And for their socialisation into the intel-gathering process, 18 police stations on the central suburbs discussed information sharing with 2,000-odd shopkeepers and traders from their jurisdictions over a three-course lunch buffet at Shanmukhananda Hall, Sion.

Let's talk: Additional CP Vineet Agarwal addresses a gathering of 2,000
hawkers at Shanmukhananda Hall, Sion yesterday. Pics/Suresh KK

The point of the interactive exercise called 'Eyes and Ears', headed by Additional Commissioner of Police (East Region) Vineet Agarwal, was to win their confidence and rope them in the city's fight against terrorism, officials said. Each police station invited 100 hawkers and shopkeepers.

"Police officers across 18 police stations worked for one and a half months to prepare an extensive database of 2,000-odd hawkers and shopkeepers which includes their names, shop names, address, and photographs," said a police official involved with the logistics department of the interactive session. This initiative comes after a hawker noticed a suspect planting a bomb on the roof of a bus stop in Dadar during the 13/7 bomb blasts in the city and yet did not report to the police, as she was busy attending to the customers during peak hours.

The police made an appeal to them to work at the grassroots level and report to the police control room or the nearest police station if they notice anything -- person, object, incident -- suspicious in the areas where they ply their trade.

 Speaking to MiD DAY, Addl CP Agarwal said, "Usually people are only watchful for a few days after a bomb blast. Through our initiative, we aim to sustain the vigilance on a daily basis on the streets of Mumbai. And who better than shopkeepers to help us with useful leads in the areas where their shops are located?"

'Will help cops'
Madhusudan Pillai, who owns a photocopying shop near Matunga station, said, "The interactive session has gone a long way to bridge the communication gap between shopkeepers and police. It has given me the confidence to report to the police in case I notice any suspicious incident in the vicinity of my shop without worrying that I will fall in the net of suspicion."

Sunita Dhuri, who owns a juice shop outside Mumbai Central station, said, "It's great to know that the cops have approached us to report to them about any suspicious happenings. As police cannot be present in each part of the city 24/7, we will surely do our bit for the city by providing the police with useful leads."

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