Kashmir institute under attack said no to security, total data loss feared

Srinagar, Feb 22 (IANS) The authorities had in the past proposed that the sprawling Jammu and Kashmir Entrepreneurship Development Institute (JKEDI) campus, guarded by a private security agency on a strategic arterial road, be secured by police or paramilitary troopers.

This was months before one of the longest gunfights in the history of Kashmir militancy began on Saturday, officials said on Monday. Authorities fear that its data servers kept on the fourth floor may have been fully gutted in the firefight.

Instead of opting for the police, the institute continued to outsource the security of the campus to private guards who proved no match to the highly trained and well-prepared militants who remained holed up inside the complex for three days.

The idea of enhanced protection for the complex was shot down by the institute administration on ground that presence of security forces would be a “hurdle” for young people, both men and women, who visit the campus, officials, who did not want to be named, told IANS.

The institute trains and finances budding entrepreneurs in the state, particularly Kashmir valley.

The 3.5 acre campus, housing three large buildings, is located near the saffron-producing town of Pampore, some 12 km from here on the strategic Srinagar-Jammu National Highway – the only surface link that connects the winter and summer capitals of the terror-affected state.

The road that also links the summer capital with south Kashmir is the lifeline not only for local supplies but is the only all-weather route used by the the Indian Army to reach the Srinagar-based 15 Corps headquarters of the Indian Army that is the nerve centre of the fight against militancy in the state. Army convoys keep moving on the road throughout day and night.

“Keeping in view the sensitivity of the area, the police had in the past wanted that the JKEDI complex may be guarded,” said a top official of JKEDI, not wishing to be named.

The official said that he was privy to the proposal mooted by the Jammu and Kashmir Police (JKP).

“We were not expecting this…it was unforeseeable,” the official said, referring to the gunfight between suspected Lashkar-e-Taiba militants and government forces, which has claimed six lives — a civilian, three soldiers and two paramilitary troopers.

Another official said that the government wanted security presence at JKEDI because it could have given extra cover to an already highly secured compound housing medium and shortwave radio transmitters of Radio Kashmir, located on the left of the campus.

“I think it was not prudent on part of the institute management to refuse the security cover. We didn’t even allow a police van to park near the gates of the institute,” the official said.

The government-funded autonomously-run institute has so far trained more than 13,000 aspiring entrepreneurs and financed some 5,000 of them with soft loans.

JKEDI officials were also staring at an “irreparable” loss of data of thousands of loan accounts. The institute’s data centre was one of the first parts of the multi-floor office complex to be gutted, apparently after it was bombed in the gunfight. The building was equipped with state-of-the-art audio and visuals for teaching and training purposes. It had a rich library of around 2,000 books.

“We are hoping against hope that the data servers may have survived the onslaught,” another official said.

The institute had no data backup site even as its IT department had proposed to buy new servers to be located at the more secured Jammu office of the institute. “The plan and the proposal got stuck in procedural hassles,” the official said.

The institute has disbursed some Rs.220 crore as seed money and loan amounts to its beneficiaries across the state, the official said. “And you can imagine the loss of data may cause to us.”

(Sarwar Kashani can be contacted at sarwar.k@ians.in)

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