BMC Disaster Management chief officer Mahesh Narvekar, then the deputy chief, talks about the tumult in the control room during the 26/11 attacks
On November 26, 2008, I had just returned from work to my residence in Vile Parle late in the evening, when I got a call about a shoot-out near CSMT. We did not know if it was a skirmish between two gangs or something else. The then chief officer, Vilas Vaidya, and I decided to go back to office. There was a traffic diversion at Metro cinema, but when we told the police who we were, they sent a vehicle with us till the BMC headquarters. Little did we know that we would not go home for the next four to five days.
The then municipal commissioner, Jayraj Phatak, also came to the control room. It gave us a lot of support.
We had never experienced such an attack. There was complete chaos. There were no CCTV cameras like now, no video wall… how many terrorists were out there? Ten or 100? There was no way of knowing.
We stepped up security at every hospital and arranged for beds, medicines and equipment. We arranged for shelters and mobilised the fire brigade and police.
The National Disaster Management Authority had been alerted and we were coordinating with the disaster control room in Mantralaya. Since ours was the largest control room, most coordination happened from there. We shut all gates to the head office in case terrorists tried to take over.
The moment we heard of the death of the three top police officers, there was complete silence in the control room. We were shocked.
We were constantly getting calls from civilians asking about their relatives’ whereabouts; trains had shut down and many people were stranded. News channels had already reported about a terrorist attack. These days, we use social media to alert people. Back then, there was no such way of contacting common citizens. For instance, on the second day of the attacks, there was a rumour of another shoot-out at CSMT because an RPF jawan’s rifle had misfired. Rumours were rife.
By the third day, the NSG had confirmed that terrorists were holed up in only three locations: the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel, Trident and Nariman House. So we knew what the focus was. Bodies had piled up at St. George Hospital and we had to shift some to KEM and Nair hospitals. Since there were many foreign nationals among the dead, we had to coordinate with the consulates. Ambulances were stationed outside the three spots to tend to the injured.
One BMC guard was injured on the first day during the shoot-out as a stray bullet hit him, and he survived. It was emotionally the most challenging operation ever.