Parliament security breach: India's Home Ministry launches inquiry

Five arrested and security tightened after men jumped from visitors' gallery during MPs' session

One of the men who vaulted into the well of the lower house of India's Parliament on Wednesday. Reuters
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India’s Home Ministry is setting up a panel to investigate how security at the national parliament building was breached after two men entered the chamber, shouted slogans and released coloured smoke on the anniversary of a fatal attack on the legislative complex more than two decades ago.

The pair jumped from the visitors’ gallery into the well of the Lok Sabha on Wednesday and set off smoke canisters, filling the lower house with thick yellow fumes and triggering nationwide alarm.

Two others, a man and a woman, set off canisters of coloured gas outside the building in New Delhi.

The security breach in the heavily fortified complex exposed shortcomings in security protocols despite a revamp following the 2001 terrorist attack on the Lok Sabha that killed more than a dozen people. New Delhi blamed Pakistan-linked terrorist groups for that attack, which brought the neighbouring countries to the brink of another war.

In a statement released on Wednesday, the Home Ministry said the high-level panel would be recommending steps to improve security.

An officer in the Delhi police force, which is also investigating the incident, told The National five people had been arrested, while another suspect was still at large. Delhi Police have lodged terrorism charges against those arrested, the Press Trust of India reported.

The suspects are from disparate backgrounds, the Hindustan Times reported, citing police investigators.

They include the son of a carpenter who drove an e-rickshaw, the son of a farm worker, an engineering graduate who returned to the family farm in his village and a woman known from her participation in demonstrations.

The suspects, who are from different parts of the country, first met through a Facebook group dedicated to Bhagat Singh, an Indian freedom fighter, and they conducted a reconnaissance of the parliament complex during a previous session, the newspaper said.

Although none of the suspects have been named officially, one of the men who jumped from the visitors' gallery was identified by Indian media as Sagar Sharma, the e-rickshaw driver. He can be seen jumping over MPs' desks in TV footage of the proceedings.

His mother, Rani Sharma, said he had given no indication about his planned action. "He told us that he was going to Delhi for two days and would come back and continue driving the vehicle,’’ she told ANI news service.

MPs shouted slogans demanding a statement on the breach from Home Minister Amit Shah when the house reconvened on Thursday. Speaker Om Birla said the Lok Sabha Secretariat was responsible for security and he would discuss the incident with its members.

"All precautions possible will be taken in future," Defence Minister Rajnath Singh told MPs.

The Secretariat has suspended eight staff over the security breach, according to people familiar with the development. It is also contemplating putting a glass wall in front of the visitors' gallery and installing full-body scanners, they said.

The two men who reached the lower house would have had to pass through three security checks.

Visitors must go through a metal detector at the entrance to the parliament complex and show their passes, which are issued on the recommendation of an MP. In the second check, security staff ensure visitors are not carrying anything, including pens, phones and notebooks.

Then, before entering the visitors' gallery, their passes are checked again.

The checks do not require removal of footwear, a loophole the two men might have exploited to smuggle canisters in their shoes. Their passes were issued on the recommendation of an MP from the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party.

Additional security personnel were posted in and around the complex on Thursday. Entry was barred to general visitors and members of the media and staff were subjected to thorough searches and checks of their shoes.

Updated: December 15, 2023, 5:57 AM