Mumbai: A massive security operation has been mounted for Saturday’s cricket World Cup final in Mumbai -- the highest-profile sporting event to be held in the city since the deadly 2008 terrorist attacks.
Although no specific threat has been made for the match between India and Sri Lanka, Mumbai Police Commissioner Arup Patnaik said he would prefer to take no chances with the safety of players and spectators.
“We will be overdoing it a bit,” he admitted at a news conference in the city on Thursday. “But it’s better to be on the safe side. The stakes are high.”
Security has been increased in India’s financial capital since the 2008 attacks, which saw 10 heavily-armed terrorists storm landmark targets, including three luxury hotels, in the south of the city.
A total of 166 people were killed and more than 300 were injured.
The Mumbai police were criticised at the time but have since handled security for a number of high-profile dignitaries, notably Barack Obama, who began his first visit to India as US president in the city last year.
The force has also successfully policed two Ganesha festivals, which every year see hundreds of thousands of Hindus throng the streets with idols of the revered four-armed, elephant-headed god.
For the World Cup final, to be attended by Indian President Pratibha Patil and her Sri Lankan counterpart, Mahinda Rajapakse, Patnaik said some 3,500 personnel will be deployed inside and outside the Wankhede Stadium.
They include the police’s own rapid reaction force and paramilitary troops from the same commando unit that stormed the Taj Mahal Palace and Tower hotel in 2008 to end a 60-hour siege by four of the gunmen.
Both the Indian and Sri Lankan teams are staying at the landmark hotel, which has been ringed by a heavy police presence.
On the ground, spectators can expect to be frisked, with restrictions in place on taking food, drink, bags, electronics and other items into the 32,000-seater venue, which will be monitored by a network of security cameras.
Support for the police will be provided by India’s army, navy and air force, Patnaik told reporters.
With memories still fresh of how the 2008 attackers arrived undetected by boat, air and sea patrols have been stepped up along the Mumbai coast as well as off neighbouring Gujarat state to the north.
Patnaik also said there would be a no-fly zone over the south of the city and extensive road blocks.
The head of the Mumbai Police crime branch, Himanshu Roy, said the background of ticket-holders from overseas was being checked while “anti-nationals and suspicious persons” were under surveillance.
“The Mumbai police is doing everything possible... to ensure that this is going to be a safe and happy event for Mumbaikars and for this country,” he added.
For Indian cricket fans, however, the focus was on the match itself, particularly with local hero Sachin Tendulkar one century short of his 100th international ton in what is likely to be his last World Cup match.
“The terror attacks are all in the past,” said Ramesh Mishra, 22, as he tried to catch a glimpse of the Sri Lanka team training at the stadium on Thursday. “Nobody is talking about it,” he told AFP.
Aleena Qureshi, a 20-year-old student, agreed. “It’s all about Sachin. This is bigger than any other game.”
Bhavesh Parmar, 32, said he could not think of a better place to play the final than in India’s most vibrant and cosmopolitan city.
“The heart of India is Mumbai,” he said. “That’s the reason the final is in Mumbai. It’s very positive for the city. It’s going to be electrifying.”