Delhi HC asks cops about strategy for bomb threats across multiple schools

The High Court asked for details of the Delhi Police's SOP for bomb threats in schools specifically, given there are only 18 bomb squads and nearly 200 schools were affected

Parents crowd around Sanskriti school in Chanakyapuri, New Delhi, to collect their wards. Guardians were called in for emergency pick-up in light of the bomb threat received by 100-plus schools in the NCR on 1 May 2024 (photo: @SGinIndia/X)
Parents crowd around Sanskriti school in Chanakyapuri, New Delhi, to collect their wards. Guardians were called in for emergency pick-up in light of the bomb threat received by 100-plus schools in the NCR on 1 May 2024 (photo: @SGinIndia/X)


The Delhi High Court on Monday, 6 May, asked the city police to detail the steps taken to ensure safe evacuation of schoolchildren in case of a bomb threat with least dependency on parents and without causing any panic.

The high court directed the Delhi Police and the Delhi government to file affidavits giving data on the number of schools in each zone, the nodal authority in each zone that is responsible for taking action in case of a threat, the time required to take action on receipt of a bomb threat and the number of mock drills that have been conducted under the supervision of the police and other departments.

Justice Subramonium Prasad said that although the police did file a status report listing the standard operating procedure (SOP) for bomb detection and disposal squads as well as the guidelines to deal with bomb threats in schools, it is missing data on several key aspects.

The new affidavits, to be filed by the city police and the government, shall include 'the action taken to ensure least dependence on parents, who would be working at faraway places, for evacuating children from the schools since the primary responsibility for evacuating will be on the schools and on the authorities'.

More than 100 schools in the Delhi NCR received a hoax email warning of a bomb threat on 1 May 2024, creating widespread panic as schools tried to establish the actual risk and how to evacuate students quickly. Several schools preemptively called for parents to collect their wards. Others sent children back in buses.

The court said the affidavits, to be filed within 10 days, must also have information about various relevant circulars issued by the Delhi government from time to time.

The Delhi Police must also indicate the action they have taken to investigate the hoax bomb threat calls received by various schools, said Justice Prasad, listing the matter for further hearing on 20 May.

The high court was hearing a petition expressing concern about several instances of bomb threats to schools in the recent past. Petitioner Arpit Bhargava, a lawyer, moved the court last year (2023) in the wake of a hoax bomb threat to Delhi Public School (DPS) on Mathura Road, Delhi.

The 1 May incident, far more widespread, has brought new urgency to the case.

During the hearing, advocate Beenashaw Soni, appearing for the petitioner, mentioned the recent bomb threat email received by around 200 schools in the Delhi NCR area, which later turned out to be a hoax.

She submitted that the city police has only 18 bomb detection and disposal squads and wanted to know how they could possibly reach and act at 200 schools expeditiously, as the 1 May incidents called for them to do. The geographies were also far-flung, ranging from Dwarka in West Delhi to Greater Noida (Gautam Buddh Nagar) in Uttar Pradesh.

"This time everyone was affected as every household has a kid. Schools gave a call to parents to come from their offices and pick up their children. The parents are traumatised and insecure. Are we waiting for a bomb to explode to bring these measures in line? It is like sending children to a war zone," Soni argued before the court.

The Delhi government's standing counsel, Santosh Kumar Tripathi, who is also representing the Delhi Police, submitted that deployment of constabulary with modern explosives detection equipment in each and every school is not possible.

The police have issued an SOP and all private schools have been informed about it, the counsel submitted. This SOP includes disaster management practices and also, specifically, what to do in the context of a bomb threat.

After going through the SOPs, the court said the submissions were of too general a nature and did not pertain to bomb threats to schools in particular—an environment that presents specific challenges and vulnerabilities.

'There are certain institutions which require special treatment,' said the court, 'for example, hospitals where patients are finding it difficult to come out and schools, where there are children right from nursery to 12th standard.'

'What is it that you have done to ensure that children studying in schools are evacuated? Do you have any special kind of SOP to handle such kind of a problem or not?' the court asked.

The judge also asked which authority would be alerted first and which would be the first required to respond in the event of such a threat.

'What is the time period that you are giving to yourself from the time of receipt of a bomb threat to actual action taken?' the court asked. Tripathi told the court it would not take more than 5 minutes.

On being asked what number of mock drills have been conducted in schools, the government counsel said the exercise is conducted every three months.

This claim was disputed by the petitioner as well as the judge, however: "I don’t think the information or the instruction is correct," said Justice Prasad.

The Delhi director of education, who was also present during the hearing, said the department issues instructions to schools to conduct mock drills quarterly, after which they send 'action taken' reports.

The Directorate of Education (DoE), in a recent status report, had said it has a 'zero-tolerance policy' in matters of safety in schools. It said officials are doing their best to ensure effective implementation of the guidelines for dealing with disasters, including bomb threats.

Edited PTI article

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