Mumbai must modernize now
Over the past week, two news stories have generated a great deal of interest and intrigue. One was from New Delhi and the other from Mumbai, but coincidentally both are linked to a major incident that happened in Mumbai more than 13 years ago.
In one of the most daring terrorist attacks in the world, 10 Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT) terrorists attacked Mumbai on November 26, 2008. The attack, which lasted 60 hours, left 175 people dead and injured plus more than 300. After the attack, the Ram Pradhan Committee was set up to find out why the attack was not averted and how to ensure that such an incident does not happen again.
The committee carefully examined and studied the attacks and issued its report. During its investigations, the committee found that communication between the Center, the state, and various investigative agencies had completely broken down, resulting in utter chaos.
The fact that these ten terrorists, including Ajmal Kasab, came from Pakistan in a boat and hijacked an Indian fishing trawler “Kuber” in Indian waters and then sailed to Mumbai. On reaching four nautical miles from Mumbai, they abandoned the trawler and inflated a dinghy which attached a motor to it and sped off towards Mumbai. The terrorists landed near the fishing colony opposite Badhwar Park at Cuffe Parade, and entered the city, were seen as a failure by all agencies including Navy, Coast Guard, Mumbai Police and others who had a duty to protect our seas and coastline.
In 2009, the government decided to establish and appoint the National Maritime Security Coordinator (NMSC) to ensure better coordination and cooperation between all central and state agencies involved in the security of our seas and the vast coastline of our country. India has a coastline of 7,516 kilometers and about two million square kilometers of exclusive economic zone.
After more than 13 years of delay, the government finally named India’s first NMSC last week. Even though it’s extremely delayed, it’s still a welcome move. This will ensure that all the agencies that have a crucial task of protecting our seas and coastlines no longer work in silos and that there is better coordination and clear communication between them.
It will now fall to the newly appointed NMSC to establish a structure that ensures smooth communication, intelligence, information and coordination between the Navy, Coast Guard and all state agencies.
The question that immediately comes to mind is that the NMSC, which was supposed to be formed immediately after the terrorist attacks of 11/26 to ensure that such an act does not happen again or that such an attempt to attack India by sea is thwarted, how would it be relevant 13 years after 11/26, and the fact that such an attack did not occur in the country?
It is true that a 26/11 type attack has not occurred anywhere in the country, but it is also true that our coastline is still porous and vulnerable to breaches. Therefore, the need for a concerted effort from all our agencies is still very necessary. Having a dedicated body to help strengthen our porous maritime borders is a positive step.
Another important suggestion given by the Ram Pradhan Committee from a security perspective was to cover Mumbai with CCTV cameras for better surveillance and response during a terrorist attack. These CCTV cameras would also be useful for crime prevention, public order situations, surveillance during natural disasters and other emergency situations.
One suggestion made by the committee was that the whole city should be covered by a net of CCTV cameras, but so far only 5,000 have been installed in various locations. Another proposal was submitted in 2009 by me as Mumbai Police Commissioner, and it took the government seven years to install those 5,000 cameras.
Considering the size and demographics of Mumbai, that number is tiny. And according to reports last week, the second phase (installation of 5,000 additional CCTV cameras) is about to be implemented.
TOO LITTLE, TOO LATE?
Even if this is welcome information, one wonders if it is not too little too late. If one were to keep in mind that these CCTV cameras were to be installed following the terrorist attacks of 11/26, then they are 13 years overdue. And a lot has changed in those 13 years. Especially when it comes to terrorist attacks, the nature of those attacks has changed, and they are just as or even more dangerous.
Crime, terror, espionage are now faceless. Crimes and terrorist attacks are carried out by unknown and faceless criminals from one part of the world to another. Anti-social elements use the anonymity provided by the internet and darknet to carry out their illegal operations. After 2010, the world witnessed an exponential change in the way terrorist attacks were carried out. Closer to home, the 2020 Mumbai power outage is believed to have been largely caused by Chinese hackers. If that’s true, then it was clearly a terrorist attack. Leon Panetta, US Secretary of Defense in 2012, said the world needed to prepare for a kind of “Cyber Pearl Harbor”. We see such attacks from time to time around the world.
THREE STEPS AHEAD
It is abundantly clear that cybercriminals are always three steps ahead of investigators. They also have the shield of anonymity and the faceless world of the internet which helps and emboldens them. Even in Mumbai, according to the latest statistics, the conviction rate in cybercrime cases is only 4%. A total of 2883 cybercrime cases were recorded in Mumbai in 2021, only 48 cases have been detected so far. There are several aspects to these catastrophic figures, as the police have to deal with faceless criminals who are almost always either in a foreign country or in a remote village in a remote corner of the country, making it almost impossible to reach them. While these criminals have access to the latest technology and equipment, the police still lack this access, nor the training required.
Given these circumstances, it is certainly encouraging to know that the next batch of 5,000 CCTV cameras will soon be installed in various parts of Mumbai. Although this is a good sign, there is still a lot to do. Mumbai needs a large number of these CCTVs to be installed everywhere. And that’s only part of its fight against cybercrime.
As of December 2021, Delhi had over 2.75 lakh CCTV cameras everywhere. This figure is significantly higher than in London, Paris, New York, Shanghai or even Singapore. It earned the distinction of becoming the first city in the world to have the maximum number of CCTV cameras per square kilometer.
According to reports, Delhi has up to 1,826 cameras per square mile while London has 1,138 CCTV cameras per square mile. And plans are already underway to install an additional 1.40 lakh CCTV cameras in Delhi in the second phase. This means that Delhi will have up to 4.15 lakh CCTV cameras installed by the end of the second phase.
Delhi did it in seven years, while Mumbai is still struggling with 5,000 (and another 5,000 to come in the second phase) over a 14-year period. The majority of crimes and criminals are now online, be it economic crimes, terrorist attacks, phishing, ransomware, hacking, etc. If Mumbai is to maintain its position as the financial capital of India, the safest city for women and children, the city of dreams, and all, it will have to dramatically increase its strength to deal with all sorts of cyber crimes and online fraud.
There is a high probability that the next terrorist attack or the next war will not take place on land, at sea or in the air, but will be a cyberwar, and we must prepare for it.
The writer is the Director General of Police (DGP) (Retired), Maharashtra, and former Mumbai Police Commissioner. He is also an award-winning author.
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Posted: Monday February 21st 2022, 09:39 IST