For the past four years, thousands of college students have volunteered during Ganeshotsav, helping the Pune police monitor and secure the city as part of the Police Mitra programme. This year, their efforts will go even further, as they use their special anti-terrorism training to assist the police in keeping an eye out for terror threats.
Helping hands: Volunteers of the Police Mitra help manage the crowds near Dagdusheth Halwai Ganpati Temple. Pic/Shashank Sane
For the first time, with the recent low-intensity blast taking place uncomfortably close to the Dagdusheth Halwai Ganpati temple, as many as 3,300 student volunteers received extensive instruction in the different ways of identifying signs of a possible terror attack. Their week-long programme training included information about explosives and methods used to make and plant bombs, how to spot suspicious behaviour, and how to report their suspicions and take preliminary precautions without spreading panic among crowds.
Police Inspector Fattesinh Patil, who coordinates the police mitra, said, “Compared to past years, this year the role of Police Mitra has widened. For the first time, we have trained them like the Anti-Terrorism Squad (ATS), and their inputs are really helping us to ensure law and order in the city.”
Sagar Kumbhar, one of the student cops, said, “I was deputed near Dagdusheth Temple last week to control the mob, when I noticed a suspicious person. It seemed like he was hanging around there, scanning the area or looking for something. I immediately informed my coordinator and we detained him with the help of police.”
Mahesh Yadav, who has been a volunteer for the past four years and is also coordinating the programme this year, said, “We have received training on how to identify any suspicious person, how to follow him or her without giving them any hint, and finally, if we are sure about their movements and a possible threat, how to contact a nearby police station and keep the suspect in the radar until the police arrives.”
Apart from helping the police keep terror attacks at bay, the volunteers also help them nab several petty criminals, such as pickpockets, chain-snatchers and eve-teasers. “Since August 29, my police mitra team has handed over 35 pickpockets and eve-teasers to the police,” added Yadav.
Pune police have decided to take support from Police Mitra not just during Ganesh festival but throughout the year. Not only will the police get additional manpower, but youngsters will be equipped with much-needed social awareness as well, say officials.
“Last week, one of our female volunteers was waiting at a bus stop, when she spotted a man who was trying to gag a girl with his hand on her mouth. She immediately informed me and I transferred the message to the local police station. The suspect is now in custody and our investigations are on. This is the strength of Police Mitra, and we have decided to take their help throughout the year. The next major event during which they will participate is Navratri,” said inspector Fattesinh Patil.