The image of then Anti-Terrorism Squad (ATS) chief Hemant Karkare+ putting on a bulletproof vest before taking on terrorists on 26/11 is etched in the minds of Mumbaikars. As it turned out, the vest was no match for the terrorists’ AK 47s, which claimed Karkare’s life as well as the lives of Additional Commissioner of Police Ashok Kamte and encounter specialist Vijay Salaskar that night.
Nine years and several controversies later, the Maharashtra Police have placed an order for 5,000 bulletproof vests with MKU, a reputed military equipment manufacturer headquartered in Kanpur, who will be importing the vests from Germany.
The last time the state police bought bulletproof vests was 16 years ago, in 2001, when it bought 110 vests, but they were woefully inadequate, as was proved in the 26/11 attacks.
Investigations later revealed that the vests were of a sub-standard quality and could insulate the police from shots fired from 9-mm pistols alone. The 2-lakh-strong Maharashtra police force currently has only 2,000 bulletproof vests, which were supplied by the Centre in March 2011.
The new and improved vests will cost Rs 32,474 each and will be distributed among various units of the police force. “We will be dividing the vests among our forces like Mumbai Police, Quick Response Team (QRT), Force One, State Reserve Police Force (SRPF), Special Forces, Gadchiroli police and police manning Naxal areas,” Additional Director General of Police V V Laxminarayana told Mumbai Mirror.
The jackets were tested at the Central Forensic Laboratory in Chandigarh and the results were positive. They were tested for the AK series of rifles, Self-Loading Rifles, MP5 submachine guns, Indian Small Arms System (INSAS) and other sophisticated weapons. “We will be testing them again once we get the delivery in June,” added Laxminarayana.
Bomb suit scam
After the hue and cry over substandard vests post 26/11, the government made a few attempts to procure bulletproof vests, but they were mired in controversy. In 2011, the government placed an order to buy 80 bomb suits costing Rs 6 crore.
The suits were of sub-standard quality and never got delivered. The government lodged a complaint about the ‘bomb suit scam’ with the Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB) against the supplying company Techno Trade Impex and its directors Bimal Agarwal, Barkha and Kishore Agarwal.Shrikant Tarwade, who was the assistant inspector general of police (provision) at the time, was also charge-sheeted in the scam for his role in procuring the suits.
Ever since, IPS officers have been wary of ordering bulletproof vests or bomb suits, admitted a senior IPS officer. “But one had to take a decision. We can’t just sit on files like this. Tomorrow, if something happens, we will be short of bulletproof vests,” he added.The officer said that the contract was handed to MKU, which is a registered supplier for NATO and UN, after due procedure. The company was selected from among four players for their experience and price.