Ghatkopar's open firing range: A death trap for locals?

On Saturday afternoon, a couple missed death by a whisker as a stray bullet smashed the rear windshield of their car at Powai. In March, a similar incident had occurred when a stray bullet had hit the eighth-floor balcony of a high-rise. With 7,120 bullets fired on Saturday by the Mumbai police’s constabulary as part of their annual practice and the procedure likely to continue for the next few days, locals live in fear. Will it finally take a death for the cops to wake up to the gravity of the situation?

The Ghatkopar firing range is meant to serve as a platform for the Mumbai police’s constabulary to polish their sharpshooting skills and save the public in the face of calamity. But what happens if the same bullets that are meant to save the lives of people end up jeopardising their existence?

By the end of December, nearly 9,000 constables will have completed their firing practice at the Ghatkopar Firing Range. PIC FOR REPRESENTATIONAL PURPOSE ONLY
By the end of December, nearly 9,000 constables will have completed their firing practice at the Ghatkopar Firing Range. PIC FOR REPRESENTATIONAL PURPOSE ONLY

This is the question that plagues the minds of locals who reside in Powai near the Ghatkopar firing range. On Saturday afternoon, Rati Chaudhary (31) a communications professional and her HR professional husband Anupam Hans (34), were on a house-hunting tour at Avalon Apartment, Hiranandani Complex in Powai. All of a sudden, a stray bullet from the nearby Ghatkopar firing range hit their parked car, smashing its rear windshield.

A stray bullet from the Ghatkopar firing range shattered the rear windshield of this car
A stray bullet from the Ghatkopar firing range shattered the rear windshield of this car

Chaudhary, who resides in Chunabhatti said, “We are searching for a rented flat for last few months and the real estate broker had called us to the building. We parked our three-year-old car in the visitor’s parking area and had entered the building to have a look at a few flats. On our return, we spotted a security guard running towards our car and we found its rear windshield glass in pieces.”

She added, “Initially we thought it was the work of some miscreant. But the security guard advised us to check the vehicle from inside to look for any clue, as he suspected that it could be a bullet. Within minutes, we found the bullet remains inside the car. Had we been near the car a minute earlier, the bullet could have hit us.”

This is not the first time such an incident has occurred. In March, this year, a stray bullet had hit the balcony of an eighth floor apartment of the same building.

7,120 bullets fired
When the incident occurred on Saturday, the Mumbai constabulary’s yearly open target firing practice using small weapon (9mm pistol and 9 mm carbine) was being conducted at the Ghatkopar firing range, which is exactly behind the hill dividing the range and Hiranandani, Powai.

According to police sources, the firing practice started at 7 am and went on till 4 pm. The session was attended by 178 (male and female) police constables from 93 police stations across the city. Each constable was given 40 rounds of 9 mm bullets for target practice. In all, around 7,120 bullets were fired in the day.

At any given point in time, eight police constables fire the rounds under the direct supervision of trained police personnel from the Local Arms and Armoury Units. As always precaution is taken by carrying out a search of the area, including the hill tops where red flags are placed to alert any bystanders of danger and also a bugle is blown before the firing in order to caution the locals.

“The firing practice is an annual programme. So far 7,636 police constables have completed the target practice and by the end of the month we are anticipating nearly 9,000 constables to have done the firing. This also means so far 3,05,440 rounds have been fired and by the end of the month 3,60,000 rounds would have been fired, but so far no untoward incident has occurred,” said a cop on condition of anonymity.

However, police officials who were present at the firing range told sunday mid-day that around 2.30 pm on Saturday, they were informed by the Armed Police control room about the incident at Powai. A police officer said, “The target for 9 mm pistol was 30 feet and that for carbine was 35 feet. A fire from 9mm pistol covers a distance not more than 40 feet, whereas a 9mm carbine range can vary from 100 to 300 feet. It’s unclear how the bullet can travel 2,000 feet to the Avalon building.”

When asked the officer if such a stray bullet piece could even kill anyone, the officer replied in negative stating that the bullet can kill only if the target is within a close range of 30 feet to 40 feet and beyond that the speed of the bullet reduced and the least it might cause are minor injuries.

He said it was possible that the bullet from a 9 mm carbine might have hit a rock and richocheted toward the building.

Work incomplete
The Naigaon firing range, which is used by police officials above the rank of Assistant Sub Inspector to Deputy Commissioner of Police, is the only closed firing centre, where 9mm pistol target practice is done. The Ghatkopar firing range is the only place for the Mumbai police constabulary.

Though the work for a closed firing practice range had started at the Ghatkopar firing range a few years ago, it’s yet to be completed. A police officer said, on condition of anonymity, “Once this closed firing centre is open, there will be no question of any such incident.”

Dhananjay Kamlakar, Joint Commissioner of Police, Law and Order, said, “We are aware of the incidents of stray bullets coming from Ghatkopar firing range. The matter is under investigation and we will come up with concrete precautions.”

Ballistic experts speak
Meanwhile, the Powai police will soon hand over the seized bullet from the car to the ballistic experts from Forensics Science Laboratory Kalina, who will match the 9mm bullets that is used at Ghatkopar firing range and will check if the remains match with that of the seized one. And in case of any variation the police will have to probe the case from a new angle. A senior police official, who didn’t wish to be named, said, “We are awaiting the ballistic report, following which our probe would begin.”

Builder Hiranandani speaks
After learning about the incident, Niranjan Hiranandani, co-founder of the Hiranandani group said, “I am not aware of any such incident. However, there have been similar incidents in the past and we had spoken to the Mumbai police. It is fortunate that nobody was injured in Saturday’s incident. Now the police department should come up with a preventive measure to avoid such incidents in the future.”

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