Nimhans shootout: Guards were nowhere in sight

Police order enquiry into lapses in keeping watch on mentally ill prisoner

Nimhans shootout: Guards were nowhere in sight
Police have ordered a departmental enquiry into Sunday’s shootout at the National Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences (Nimhans), during which a mentally ill prisoner grabbed a constable’s .303 rifle and went on a shooting spree before Garuda commandos gunned him down.

“I have ordered a departmental inquiry to get some facts right,” Bengaluru Police Commissioner N S  Megharik told Deccan Herald on Monday. Sharanappa Ningappa Wadagera, the City Armed Reserve (CAR) constable who was guarding the prisoner, Vishwanath, 22, had left his rifle unattended. He faces suspension if the enquiry finds that he committed lapses in handling the weapon.

The DCP (South) CAR, Bengaluru, who submitted a report on the incident on Monday night, has been asked to file another one as some aspects need clarification, said Joint Commissioner of Police (CAR), D Roopa.

There were several other lapses too. Madhu Kumar, another guard, was to take charge of Vishwanath minutes before the incident occurred. Four other guards were posted at the closed ward pavilion where the incident took place. Shockingly, Kumar and the four others were not to be seen when Vishwanath grabbed the rifle. The enquiry will ascertain why they were absent, said a senior police officer.

The brazen incident has raised questions about how police escort prisoners. At the same time, there are voices that the situation should have been handled better and more professionally. Sharp reactions are said to have been expressed in the Home Department about the lapses by the CAR staff, the decision to shoot at Vishwanath and inadequate facilities at hospital prison wards.

Although many people said it was unfortunate that the police shot down Vishwanath, several senior officers justified the decision. “It’s the judgment of an officer while handling a critical situation. The weapons were in possession of an insane person and anything could have happened. There is nothing wrong in it,” former DG&IGP Shankar Bidari said.

Another retired DG&IGP said that he fully endorsed the decision given the ground reality.
“Police exhausted all means to neutralise him. They do not have the means to use sophisticated techniques such as sedatives and gases in such situations,” he said on the condition of anonymity. “They had no option but to shoot at him.”

But another police officer, who served in Bengaluru some time ago, reminded that Vishwanath was in an enclosed space and police could have neutralised him by other means. “It is unfortunate that a mentally ill person had to die because of the shooting,” he said. Gopal Hosur, a retired IGP, opined that the situation could have been handled in “a better way”.

On involving the Garuda Force, these officers said that its commandos were supposed to be summoned only to handle hostage crises. The incident also drew attention to how the police escort prisoners.

“It should open the eyes of the police. They should arrange for guards and storage of arms in hospital prison wards. The facilities in all hospital prison wards have existed for the last 35 years. The  incident calls for a through review of the situation,” Bidari said.

Many officers blamed Wadagera’s negligence for the incident. Vishwanath had unrestricted access to weapons. In fact, rifles and rounds were available to him. If he were a rowdy or a terrorist and not mentally ill, the incident would have had devastating consequences. Wadagera clearly didn’t follow the rules on handling the weapons. There was no need for him to keep a loaded weapon as he wasn’t dealing with a terror-like situation.
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