Second attack in eight months has pushed the EDI into space-scarce that may force it operate from the tents for the time being. In the season of surgical strikes, the question being asked loudly is, was it impossible to save the buildings, reports Masood Hussain
(Army soldiers used IEDs and rockets against the suspected militants inside the hostel building of the JK EDI Pampore. (KL Image: Bilal Bahdur))
It was peak evening time and we were pushing our reportage to Jammu when there was a sudden gun rattle outside the Kashmir Times Srinagar bureau office. After an initial panic, it dawned that two militants had barged into the three-level complex, facing our office, and it has been surrounded completely. Tensions started easing gradually as we were told that no employee is trapped.
The 3-level Bakhshi era building was important because it housed Press Information Bureau (PIB) in its ground floor, Directorate of Information in the first floor and the vitally important films division, a section of the state information department, on the top floor. This section was the sole custodian of the rare motion footage of the earlier part of our history that included certain pre-1947 events and lot of coverage about 1947.
We finished in a hurry and then contacted the cops for a safe passage, which they ensured. Once out of harms range, I remember, I saw the top police officers on the main road. I told them they might be thinking of setting the building afire. “Please do not do it. We will lose our history,” I told a senior cop. “There are just two guys who could be neutralized within hours, tactfully.” They smiled.
Two hours later, I got a call: Information department is burning and the efforts are underway that the conflagration should not consume the residential flats. A scribe said the security men set it afire and the trapped militants jumped out and were killed during the fall. Not a single sheet of paper could be rescued.
(Army soldiers stand alert as an encounter started between forces and suspected militants hiding in a Hostel Building of J&K EDI on Oct 10, 2016 at Pampore. (KL Image: Bilal Bahadur))
Since the conflagration at Wat Magam in early 1990, thousands of blazes became news. The security grid, under the special laws, are permitted to “destroy any arms dump, hide-outs, prepared or fortified position or shelter or training camp from which armed attacks are made by the armed volunteers or armed gangs or absconders wanted for any offence.” Apparently under this garb, the army, cops and the paramilitary men destroyed entire localities in last more than 20 years.
But it does not explain why the counter-insurgency grid should destroy the possessions of the system that hires, protects and pays it. After all, state government cannot be accused of sheltering militants.
Innumerable buildings including schools, manufacturing facilities, offices and public utility centres have gone up in smoke in retaliation in last two decades and nobody in the government seems to be concerned. Though a small constituency within the security grid had started insisting that the system must refuse insurgents to convert infrastructure into “monuments of strife”, it could barely become the policy. There, were, however, certain instances in which the security grid exhibited patience and avoided converting operations into conflagrations. After destroying the earlier Income Tax office –it was perhaps the unique operation in which media corps intervened to rescue the staff at a time when paramilitary men were busy in putting the building on fire, the Passport Office in the Indoor Stadium, this doctrine helped police save Lal Chowk and Ali Jan Complex from getting reduced to cinders.
It is in this backdrop that one can talk about the Entrepreneurship Development Institute (EDI) at Pampore that lost second of its three major buildings to an “encounter” last week. Pained over the massive destruction and losing two landmark buildings within a time gap of eight months, some people have used the social networking websites to rename it Encounter Demonstrations Institute.So many within the official circles have taken black humour to the next level saying the EDI has emerged the only bilateral institute between India and Pakistan where one side is undoing its software and another destroying its hardware.They say the ‘temple of entrepreneurship’ is already a shrine!
(Broken glasses and smoke coming out from the EDI Hostel building on Oct 10, 2016. (KL Image: Bilal Bahadur))
EDI lost its main administrative complex in February. Within two days, the institute was back to business in the building that is no more now, its almost-eight-level structure comprising twin dining hall and kitchen in ground floor and four halls and 60 bed rooms in six levels and the attic.
The building with cumulative built up area of more than 100 thousand sq feet, and constructed in two years (yes in less than two years only) cost EDI Rs 16.15 crore. Key infrastructure, it would help EDIretain the trainees within its premises till the training courses were over. After the February attack, the EDI shifted everything that it saved in the main building to the hostel and now it has nothing left.
In the ‘surgical strike’ season, destruction of this landmark is now being talked about quite loudly. Could this building have been saved?
The destruction of the twin landmarks have set tongues wagging everywhere. Vocal lawmaker Engineer Rashid said if the parliament could be saved from getting damaged in an attack, soldiers could have shown restrain and dealt with two alleged militants in a manner that could have caused minimum damage to the building. He said the security grid will ensure saving Taj Mahal or any other prestigious institution if such a situation emerges there.
(Army used IEDs to blast the EDI Hostel building in Pampore during an encounter on Oct 10, 2016. (KL Image courtesy: Mehraj Bhat))
In anticipation of the attack, top security officials would routinely visit EDI and gossip loudly: ‘something is going to happen around.’After the pre-unrest Pampore attack in which many CRPF personnel were killed when militants ambushed their bus in the main market, the entire team of top security experts, flown from Delhi, had started their field visit from EDI only. EDI had improved its security system on the highway side and had invited tenders to construct bunkers on the river side, wherefrom this batch of intruders had reportedly come.
Within hours after the intrusion was detected and established, the army had one of its soldiers getting injured – he received a bullet in his toe in accident. After the contact was established, troops decided against storming the building. The ground commanders, according to sources took the decision in wake of “bad experience” in February encounter in which it had lost two captains, both commandos. Instead, they decided to bring down the building.
First they got a truckload of straw and set it afire in the basement hoping it will get up in smoke. Then, they tied innumerable IEDs, may be 100 or more, and blasted them. Then they got a huge quantity of RDX and detonated it. They did not know that EDI constructions have the notoriety of being cheap but abnormally strong. Finally, they started “softening” the target by using projectiles including mortars and rockets. This was being done as drones and choppers were offering real time intelligence, overhead.
Interestingly, the security grid asked for drawings of the building almost 24 hours after they were into operation!
It was only after 36 hours that personnel from Special Operations Group (SOG) and the CRPF volunteered to get in and catch hold of the two holed up militants’. They were angry over the spectacle being telecast live without any progress. It changed the strategy as the soldiers finally decided to get in, scan and kill – a long process that concluded 20 hours later. It envisaged lobbing grenades in every room to stun the intruder if any. One militant was killed during the night and another in the forenoon on the third and last day of the encounter.
It was perhaps the only militant attack in which insurgents failed to hit even a bird despite dominating a “war theatre” from a high-rise with no civilian population around.
For the last many years, these buildings housing the EDI, demonstrated the potential of the youth in areas outside government jobs. It created a chain of enterprises with the highest success rate on record. If this profile would make these building the target, then saving these should have been the objective.
(Para-troopers flown from Delhi along with other other army soldiers inside the EDI premises at Pampore on October 10, 2016. (KL Image: Bilal Bahadur))
Post-encounter when the EDI staffers reached the devastated premises, another shock was waiting for them. The only surviving building between the two destroyed onesin two encounters was safe but plundered. The three-story guest house had 13 of its LCDs looted and bedding of its 10 executive bedrooms was also missing. “The day we detected militants, we informed police and handed over the premises to them,” one informed official said. “We do not know who did it but it is obvious that people who were in control of situation have looted it.” In fact one computer has also been looted from the guest house. The issue has been taken up with the police.
Unlike February when its staff had started operating from the Hostel, this time the EDI is facing crippling space issues. Right now it has only two buildings – a small counseling centre and a three story guest house. It lacks space for training and all the facilities and tools that were key elements in its training procedures have completely been decimated.The institute might take slightly more time in getting back to business but the attack has destroyed the building, not the idea.