Cops look for ‘bombs’ in south Mumbai

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The clock was ticking and with just five minutes to go, inspector Sanjivrao Mandlik of the Colaba police station ordered his men to make one last circuit around Gateway of India in hope of finding a bomb hidden in an undisclosed location. On Sunday evening, officers from seven police stations — Azad Maidan, MRA Marg, Marine Drive, Colaba, Dongri, Cuffe Parade, L T Marg and J J Marg — raced against time to trace dummy bombs placed in unmarked baggage at undisclosed locations in south Mumbai. The catch: they had between two hours to do it.

This January, Mumbai police launched the biannual exercise, Operation Sigma, to improve preparedness of its officers in tracing bombs within a deadline. The exercise assumes greater importance after two blasts killed 16 and injured more than a hundred people in Hyderabad recently, prompting the police to carry it out on such a scale.

On the day of the exercise, Deputy Commissioner of Police, Zone I, Ravindra Shisve sends a message through the wireless communication at the beginning of the operation. Members of Shisve's staff in plainclothes then go around south Mumbai before picking a spot to place the baggage and slip away.

"We have asked locals to become our eyes and ears. We have three beats in our police station and our men develop 40-50 people on each beat who will inform them of suspicious activity," said Vinod Sawant, senior inspector, Colaba police station.

Sawant's men have been successful in tracing all of Shivse's bombs placed at locations Pakistani gunmen had been to five years ago.

"So far, we found bombs outside Leopold Cafe, the Taj hotel, Gokul restaurant and Regal cinema. Ever since 26/11, we've been on alert 24 hours a day," said Sawant.

Sawant's men had an easier time last week, when they recovered a dummy bomb at a paan shop near Gateway of India barely an hour into the exercise. "Friday's bomb was placed close to where police officers sit at frisking counters of the Gateway. But as the person who placed the bomb is also a police officer, he chose an appropriate time to do it and escaped," said Mandlik.

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