Terror attacks have gripped the city on countless occasions in the past, and the festive season makes Mumbai a vulnerable target. Mandals in the city have moved beyond CCTVs, watchdogs and metal detectors. This year, they've gone a step further to secure the idols and devotees they've got terror insurance, too, finds Moeena Halim
Pune’s bomb blast injures five year-old Riots hit Azad Maidan Man caught with a pistol outside a temple. These are incidents that make headlines every other day. As citizens, we may have become desensitised, but these events have pushed the city’s Ganpati mandals into taking a new type of precaution - this year, a number of them have opted for insurance against terror attacks.
The number game
The GSB (Gowd Saraswat Brahmin) Seva Mandal at Matunga (east), considered to be the city’s richest, has a total insurance of a whopping Rs 224 crore. “Although we got insurance last year too, it hadn’t occurred to us to include terrorism. This year, we made sure we added a clause that covers terror attacks,” says Satish Nayak, senior trustee of the mandal.
Of the total amount, close to Rs 182 crore is allocated to ‘personal accidents’ – approximately Rs 10 lakh will be given to each devotee in the event of an attack or any sort of accident. “Obviously the premium has gone up considerably this year because we have included terrorism. But we don’t mind that. We want to take every precaution necessary to keep the devotees safe. Look at what happened in Pune,” adds Nayak, shaking his head. He refuses to divulge the exact amount of premium they have paid or the name of the insurance company. Apart from terror attacks, the insurance also covers the gold and silver jewellery, third party claims and incidents such as fire or natural calamities like earthquakes.
Lack of intelligence
According to Uday Salian, spokesperson for the Veera Desai-based Andhericha Raja’s Azadnagar Sarvajanik Utsav Samitee, the intelligence department is badly lagging. “The terror squad never has any information. We keep facing attacks – things happen and that’s when the squad wakes up,” complains Salian. Salian claims that theirs was the first mandal to insure their idol and its devotees against terror attacks. “Our insurance cover mentioned terrorism last year too,” he says, adding that the mandal had also held a special aarti against terrorism last year.
“Ganeshotsav is a huge festival. At Andhericha Raja, we get as many as 13 lakh devotees through the festival. Their shraddha (devotion) is very strong. We cannot afford to take terrorism lightly,” he asserts. “The mandal committee decided to get insurance against terror attacks,” says Salian. This year, their insurance cover is worth Rs 2.40 crore. Rs 10 lakh has been reserved for devotees who may face attacks while they are in line for darshan or during visarjan.
On the suggestion of Mumbai Police Commissioner Satyapal Singh, the Lalbaugcha Raja Sarvajanik Ganeshotsav Mandal has paid a premium of Rs 8.5 lakh to New India Insurance, to surprisingly, insure the citizens of the city for the course of the 11-day festival. This will benefit devotees or their families in the event of a blast, a riot or a case of drowning. “At a recent meeting, the commissioner told us about a similar initiative taken in Pune last year. The entire city was insured against terror attacks. He recommended we do the same in our city this year,” says Ashok Pawar, president of Lalbaugcha Raja Sarvajanik Ganeshotsav Mandal.
While the committee organising Ganesh Galli’s Mumbaicha Raja decided to specially mention terror attacks in their Rs 3.5 crore insurance cover this year on the advice of the commissioner, they feel the police’s new Jagrut Mumbai initiative will help them take better precautionary measures. “Recently, the city police organised a training session called Jagrut Mumbai. It was a first-of-its-kind training programme for mandal workers and volunteers,” says Swapnil Parab, mandal secretary, Lalbaug Sarvajanik Utsav Mandal.
“The attendees were taught to deal with high-risk situations, and to keep a lookout for suspicious persons. In the case of a suspicious event, they were told to inform the police immediately,” elaborates Naresh Dahibawkar, from the Brihanmumbai Sarvajanik Ganeshotsav Samanvay Samiti, the umbrella body for Ganesh mandals in the city.
The Girgaum Khetwadicha Raja committee felt they didn’t need insurance cover this year. Instead, they’re relying on tight security. “We have ensured that our guards receive 10 days of special training. We have metal detectors at our entrance, watchdogs and CCTV cameras too,” says Rahul Mathur, a member of the committee.
Residential buildings surround the Andhericha Raja pandal, and Salian agrees that just getting insurance isn’t enough. “We haven’t had any trouble in the past, but you never know,” says Salian. The committee has upped its security this year. They have installed 24 CCTV cameras instead of just 16 last year. There will be 250 trained volunteers - both male and female - who will guard the area. The committee doesn’t rely on the city police to secure the pandal. “They don’t really help us, so we have created our own system,” says Salian. “In 2010, we were awarded the Best Secured Ganesh Mandal. The police tells everyone to follow our example,” says Salian with pride.
The GSB Seva Mandal, on the other hand, works hand-in-hand with the city police. “The Mumbai police suggested that we put CCTV cameras even on the roads outside the pandal. So this year we have done that too,” reveals GSB Mandal’s Nayak. They have installed 32 CCTV cameras. “Four security guards will watch the videos at all times,” he adds.
Over 10,000 devotees accompany the idol during the visarjan procession to Girgaum Chowpatty. “The police will provide two armed guards along with two big security vans which will carry all the jewellery,” says Nayak. The police has forbidden people from taking any belongings inside the pandal. “Devotees pay us for rice or coconuts, and we make the offering,” he adds. “Frankly, I don’t think we are soft targets. But the situation is always very unpredictable. It really depends on our fate. What has to happen, will happen. Precaution is our dharma (duty),” concludes Nayak.
Bhairavi Pandya, who visited the Lalbaug pandal at 4 am on Wednesday morning, felt that the security guards there were constantly on their toes. “They don't let you go inside until they check you thoroughly,” she says. Getting insurance against terror attacks was a great move, she believes. “Especially in the case of the moorti. A lot of money is spent on the moorti, so if that can be recovered, it is definitely a good thing. However, I’m not sure how much the devotees will benefit out of the insurance,” she adds.
Lalbaugcha Raja helpline
The 24-hour helpline - 4444 4444 - will give you all the information you need about Lalbaugcha Raja. From aarti timings to directions to get to the pandal, dates of various events and the status of the current queue - the information is a phone call away.
Keeping watch from the skies
This year on the 11th day of Ganesh Chaturthi, if you see two hovering objects in the skies over Girgaum Chowpatty, don’t mistake them for UFOs.
The Additional Commissioner of Police (south region), Krishna Prakash, is going to deploy two Netra UAVs (unmanned aerial vehicle) to help his team maintain security during visarjan. “After the Azad Maidan incident, we have decided to stay on our toes. We’re taking the utmost care to make sure everything is going smoothly,” says Addl CP Prakash, adding that it is difficult to control the overcrowded beach.
In production for the past two years, the Netra UAV has been in production is developed by Ideaforge Technologies. The autonomous device gives a strong advantage to security personnel as it can record videos while hovering in the skies. It is an extremely small device and can be controlled through a laptop-based ground control station. If need be, the device can be made to fly at the speed of 30 km/hr.