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After Karachi airport attack, Mumbai airport seems to be a sitting duck

Tuesday, 10 June 2014 - 8:15am IST | Agency: dna

4,000-strong CISF personnel
Over 32.22 million passengers land at CSIA annually
260,666 aircraft landing and take-offs annually

The Chhatrapati Shivaji International Airport (CSIA) in Mumbai is a lurking danger. If airport sources are to be believed, there are so many loopholes in airport security here that what happened in Karachi on Sunday can well happen in CSIA any time.

On Sunday midnight, 10 Pakistani Taliban militants killed at least 19 people and attempted to hijack an airplane at the Jinnah International Airport. The 10 militants were also killed.

Central Industrial Security Force (CISF) spokesperson in New Delhi Hemendra Singh parroted the standard line: "Security has been beefed up."

But stories narrated by others like Nicholas Almeida are chilling.

"First and foremost," Almeida, an activist, politician and union leader of airport workers, said, "are the huge sewage pipes leading to the Mithi river. One can easily sneak inside the airport premises through them."

The box-type gutter near the cargo section, which is thinly manned, is another security loophole, he pointed out.

The 276 acres of slums around the airport land doesn't help matters either. From certain places in the slums, aircraft are well withing striking distance of a bullet or a rocket launcher.

Airport insiders says even airside (inside airport) security is porous. In March this year, a sacked contract employee allegedly made good with a Bolero car from inside the airport. Later it, turned out he hadn't returned his ID card even after being served with the pink slip.

"The accused zoomed away with the Bolero from gate no. 5 and no security guard stopped him. The security personnel did not even make an entry in their register when the vehicle left the airport premises," senior police inspector Rajendra Nagbhire of the airport police station had told dna in March.

Similarly, a few years back, a plane-towing tractor was allegedly stolen from inside the airport premises. Nexus between airport, airline insiders and outside syndicates, especially in gold smuggling, is another cause of concern for surveillance agencies.

One reason for security breach is the faulty system of background checks. Non-passengers are supposed to get an access pass from the airport security regulator, Bureau of Civil Aviation Security (BCAS).

"There are hundreds of workers inside the airport who get the antecedent certificate from districts other than Mumbai. Police in other districts might not necessarily know the antecedents of a person in the absence of a centralised information-sharing system" said an airport source. "Hence, many workers and loaders exploit the situation," he added.

Anti-Terrorism Squad inspector-general Niket Kaushik, however, countered this. "The state CID has a centralised data of crime. District police departments send details of crime records to the state CID and compile the data. Hence, it is unlikely that a person can hoodwink the police by attempting to hide his criminal history."

dna had, on June 8, reported how the issuance of local IDs by airports are becoming a security concern after the server at BCAS was destroyed in a fire four months back. Issuance of local ID cards were against IB advisory, the report had said.

On the threat from sewage pipelines, CISF spokesperson Hemendra Singh said: "Generally, CISF takes security precautions of all boundary walls and nallas in and around the airport. I have no idea about this particular case at CSIA. I will be able to tell only after checking the facts, he said.

Even if the 'all-is-well' assurances by security authorities were true, that's only cold comfort. For, at stake here is not just the security at CSIA.

The nearby Juhu airport, which operates helicopters and fixed-wing aircraft, is a constant worry. A handful of local policemen keep vigil here against the well-armed CISF personnel at other airports. Local policemen still play watchdog at Juhu, notwithstanding the numerous intelligence warnings over the years that the helicopters here could be used for striking CSIA.

Will the airport authorities please listen?

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