Unchecked boxes at parking lots, could they be bombs? (Fourth in a series on how safe is the Indian capital)

December 9th, 2008 - 4:24 pm ICT by IANS  

New Delhi, Dec 9 (IANS) Deftly manoeuvring my car, I squeezed it inside a packed parking lot in the capital’s busy Nehru Place commercial complex. My eyes fell on rows of motorcycles and scooters - many with suspicious looking cardboard boxes strapped on them. A nice little place I thought to plant a bomb. I shivered.In recent months, bomb hoaxes at Nehru Place and at the Intercontinental Hotel nearby have been rampant.

I asked a parking attendant: “What is the security like? Are these unattended boxes checked?”

His reply came with a shrug: “The vehicles belong to people we know.”

The attendants were only concerned with stuffing cars into the inadequate spaces of the municipality-run parking lot. Over 300 motorcycles and a thousand cars are jammed into these parking lots at any time of the day.

The situation was just as lax at the underground multi-level parking lot at Palika Bazaar in Connaught Place, the very heart of Delhi.

A security guard handed me a digitally generated ticket. I drove the car down to the second rung. The car park, in a buzzing commercial hub, is the oldest of its kind in the capital.

The guard let me drive through without checking my car but he did check the one behind. Even in that case, all he gave was a casual glance into the contents of the boot.

Connaught Place was one of the three markets in Delhi that were rocked by bomb blasts Sep 13 killing 24 people in the city.

I saw a few dusty CCTVs at the entry points. Are they monitored? The attendant was clueless. “Humein kuch nahin pata (I don’t know anything).”

Further away, in south Delhi’s hugely popular Sarojini Nagar market, I found cars parked helter-skelter along the main road. It was here that a powerful bomb in October 2005 claimed 62 lives a day before Diwali.

I drove my car into the parking lot near a school, close to the perennially crowded vegetable market.

The parking attendant was all of 13 years.

I wanted to know if the cars were checked at all. Initially shy, he opened up: “We have been briefed to report anything suspicious. Some policemen come every two hours with an inverted mirror and scan the bottom of the cars. In peak hours even that is rare.”

At the underground parking near the Delhi Police headquarters, the situation was worse. The dingy lot looked eerie, though it was afternoon.

I wanted to park my car there because I assumed it would be well guarded. But there was not even a single guard.

With the slots full, I managed to insert my car between two other cars precariously parked on a slope. A teenage boy with a bunch of clinkering keys came running out of nowhere and handed me a parking ticket.

The boy admitted that cars were not checked. He added cheekily: “Don’t worry, your car won’t get stolen.”

I recalled that stolen vehicles had been used in most cases of bombings.

As I walked out, I noticed two constables sipping tea, armed with batons. An hour later, when I returned to take my car out, they were still sipping tea.

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