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Government to step up security at Mantralaya after Harshal Raote suicide

Saturday, February 10, 2018
By Prashant Hamine

The suicide of 45-year-old Harshal Raote at Mantralaya yesterday has once again exposed the fragile security apparatus especially after the city witnessed the March 1993 serial bomb blasts, November 2008 Mumbai terror attacks and the June 2010 fire that devoured the top floors of Mantralaya. However, despite the tall promises made by governments of the day after these incidents about the need to beef up security at the states administrative and political seat of power, precious little seems to have been done over the years.

Raote's case was the sixth incident of suicide and attempted suicide by people at Mantralaya in the last two years. In the latest case, Dhule based farmer Dharma Patil succumbed later after consuming poison. The other five survived after timely intervention of the police and plain clothes policemen who are now deployed to prevent such incidents. Yesterday, it was an unusual sight at  Mantralaya where police in uniform were positioned along the gallery abutting the atrium on all the seven floors. However, it was a temporary one day measure with authorities disclosing that more permanent additional deployment of security personnel will be made soon.

There are three entry and exit gates for Mantralaya which includes the main gate, garden gate and mirror gate facing the Oval Maidan. Ordinary visitors are allowed entry from the main and garden gates, whereas government employees and politicians are allowed entry from all the three gates. Speaking to newspersons yesterday, Deputy Commissioner of Police (DCP) Dr Manoj Sharma argued that easy access and quite loose security measures to examine visitors could be the reason behind such incidents.

After the June 22, 2012 fire that destroyed top floors of Mantralaya that left three dead and 15 injured, the redevelopment plan included entry plaza where visitors would get bar-coded entry passes. It was then proposed that the bar-coded entry passes will be meant for access to that particular floor and office and the visitor will not be allowed entry to any other office than allowed on the entry pass. A barcode scanner was supposed to have been installed at entry doors of all the offices. The officers were expected to leave their work desk and meet visitors in the visitors gallery.

Although there are seven entrance gates to the main and annexe building, only four of the building entrances and the three main gates, garden gate and mirror gate have baggage scanners. However, the scanners cannot detect whether the liquid, potion or powder inside the bag is water or poison. Hence, now all the visitors are requested to deposit the bottles, tobacco pouches at the main entrance gates.  Only recently, the administration has made printing of Aadhaar Card number in the visitors pass which also has the visitors photograph.

But these measures are not new and more enhanced security features were mooted in June 2010 after the November 26, 2008 Mumbai terror attacks. The measures then included bullet proof walls with watch towers, closure of multiple entry points, deployment of State Reserve Police (SRP), electronic crasher gates and bollards. After the June 2012 Mantralaya fire, a security plan worth Rs. 12 crore was drawn up that included installing 300 CCTV cameras, restricting entry of vehicles, vehicle scanning devices, waiting rooms for visitors, six feet steel fencing and modern security gadgets. Many of these measures still remain on paper to this day.

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