I’ve been thinking about what sort of systems should be put into place to try to prevent further attacks as in Mumbai. I don’t mean this to be callous. I too have family in Bombay, and while they’re OK, my heart still aches for those whose family is not. But the trains are running once more and need to be protected. [This is also some very abstract thinking,
so I might be and Mumbaikar reveals, in the comments, that I am entirely talking out of my kundi.]
One solution, as Manish argues, would be to close the entire system and control access:
What it would take to solve the bombs-on-trains problem: money, lots of money. Indian Railways needs to run more frequent trains so they’re not jammed all the time. The stations need to be fully enclosed so entrance can be precisely controlled. And, like on Eurostar high-speed trains, every passenger needs to be scanned for explosives. [Link]
p>Something like this is done in the New Delhi Metro system. Although there was no mechanical sniffer, at many stops passengers were patted down or wanded by bored jawans. However, it strikes me that this is the wrong path, similar to trying to create a computerized tiffin system in Bombay. Sure it might work, but you’d need continuous electricity and literate tiffin carriers. Instead, India currently has something better. Using a system of painted symbols on each tiffin carrier:
Five thousand tiffinwallas deliver 175,000 hot lunches from home to work every day, and empty tiffins back home, with only one error every 16 million deliveries. [Link]
p>India works best when its ample semi-skilled labor applies simple rules repeatedly and rigidly. I’m trying to think about how to best reduce security risk by applying India’s comparative advantage, rather than imposing an alien solution.
p>Applying a similar form of reasoning, here’s one suggestion, a policy that dictates:
p align=left>[UPDATE: MUMBAIKAR HAS ARGUED THAT THIS WONT WORK IN REAL LIFE. FAIR ENOUGH, I'M TRYING TO MAKE AN ARGUMENT FOR A PARTICULAR TYPE OF APPROACH RATHER THAN ONE SOLUTION IN PARTICULAR]
p align=left>This approach turns the number of passengers from a weakness into a strength. The more passengers, the more eyes there are to watch. It’s clearly in their own self-interest to do so, so we can expect vigilance. And Indians are very good at being nosy.
p align=left>India isn’t the sort of place where you leave a bag unattended in any case, so any bag that is unclaimed, even briefly, probably doesn’t belong there. Lastly, Bombay trains have open windows and doors, so you can quickly jettison any bag that gets left behind.
This is only a partial fix. Bags at foot level might be hard to notice when a train is jam-packed [Disclaimer - I've never been in one of these trains]. And it wont stop a suicide bomber with explosives strapped to his or her clothes. Still, it would be faster, cheaper, easier to implement and more reliable than a high tech solution.
Whether this idea works or not, the broader point is that any solution should employ social capital more heavily than technology. It should go with rather than against the grain, using the characteristics of the local transportation system as a strength rather than fighting it. You can’t impose an alien system on a maximum city like Mumbai, it’ll be overwhelmed. Instead you need a very Indian solution.
A new policy has been announced:
Close Circuit Televisions (CCTVs) have been installed at seven railway stations of Mumbai and the Western Railways plans to hire a security agency to improve surveillance in the wake of Tuesday’s serial blasts in suburban trains.
“We intend to hire an expert security agency and create an international-standard security set up that will be the best in the country. A time-bound programme will be undertaken in consultation with the agency”, Rao said.
Till then, to begin with, CCTVs have been installed at the seven railway stations, he said adding the strength of sniffer dog squad has been tripled and will be put on standby for any emergency.
Extra paramilitary forces were deployed at railway stations in view of the present situation, he said, adding baggage checking and frisking have been intensified. [Link]
I’m sure this will all help, but not much. From what I’ve heard the system is too open for these measures to be effective – if people board between stations, then they can circumvent the CCTVs, sniffer dogs and paramilitary forces. You’d either need to close the entire system of choose a different approach.
Mumbaikar’s comment about the flaws in my proposal:
Ennis, usually people in Bombay whenever possible are extremely cautious about unattended objects lying around. Whether in parks, under benches in railway stations or inside compartments. At rush hour the compartments are so packed that small tasks like wiping the sweat from your forehead or breathing itself is a challenge. The trains get completely packed after the first couple of stations itself (i.e withing 10 mins the trains are full, in a 90 minute journey). In the subsequent stations as people cram and push themselves in, people usually dont get much beyond the doorway. Bags are then passed overhead in a relay system to the people standing under the racks and they then adjust the bags and keep the new bag there, untill there is no place. When people want to get down, again, the bags are picked up and passed to the person. In such cases it is very difficult to track which bags are unattended, who left without a bag etc.