As millions of piligrims pour into Allahabad for the Mela, security officials have put in place a whole series of security effortst to counter what they believe could be serious attempts by suspected militant outifits to create trouble at the festival.
Indian intelligence agencies have alerted the Mela administration to possible strikes by a militant outfit, Lashkar-e-Toiba, which has its headquarters in Pakistan and has many members active in Indian Kashmir. The Lashkar-e-Toiba recently launched a bomb attack on an army camp inside the historic Red Fort in New Delhi.
Mela Commissioner Sadakant Mishra has confirmed that intercepted conversations of leading radicals in Lashkar-e-Toiba contained references to the Kumbh Mela and plans to sabotage the event. “ We have geared up our security to counter any such threat’, he said with a brave face.
Mine detection squads, assisted by sniffer dogs, are constantly combing the 50 sq. km Mela area along the banks of Ganges. Detectives from Special ‘Anti-sabotage teams’ of the Intelligence Bureau (IB) are believed to have fanned out across the Mela dressed as normal piligrims. Besides, a battery of expert army ‘Spotters’ - who have worked in terrorist affected Kashmir and North Eastern states - are keeping a close round the clock vigil, looking for any suspicious movements during the mela period.
The Army has also been closely involved with the secuirty operations with its ‘Anti Terrorist’ squad swinging into operation.
The Army is also engaged in ‘River Patrol Operations’ with nets laid deep into the waters for sieving out any underwater mines. Such mines, if targeted at the Sangam - the meeting point of the Ganges and the Yamuna, and most sacred of bathing spots - could take a huge toll on any of the main bathing days. Helicopters, with high tech equipment on board, will be supplementing the combing operations to keep a vigil during the main bathing days
Security officials say that a comprehensive computerised data bank of photographs of top militants has been provided to combing operations officials on the look out for suspects. The personnel out on the search have with them high-tech cameras. The pictures of suspected militants taken at the kumbh site can then be matched with the pictures in the police data bank, updated online, round the clock, from the state capital, Lucknow.
Officials admit that frisking individual devotees pouring on the banks of the Ganges from various directions and diverse modes of transport is next to impossible; they can only take general security measures, more specifically targeted only when they have advance information. Ensuring security for a huge city that has emerged almost overnight by way of temporary tents is no mean feat. More so, when the people assembling do so for religious purposes and are sensitive to visible or harsh security measures.
Police frisking the Mela area on Sunday, have reportedly apprehended five persons said to be moving around in a suspicious manner. Confirming the reports, the police control stated that the persons had been taken for interrogation. As a precautionary measure, security forces have yet not disclosed details of the people arrested.
The Indian Rapid Action Force on duty at the Kumbh
Checkpoints at the Sangam
Massed crowds yesterday
Two of the estimated 5,000 troops on duty