NEW DELHI — When Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) signed a security contract with the Army Welfare Placement Organisation (AWPO) in August 2019, the veterans’ employment agency agreed to take “total responsibility of any lapse in the day to day operations of the deployed staff under the agency during deployment period”.
This contractual assurance, documents reviewed by HuffPost India show, was a major reason why the JNU administration chose the AWPO over the Directorate General Resettlement (DGR), which was also in the running for the contract.
Now, a fortnight after a mob of masked intruders entered the JNU campus, assaulted students and faculty at will and sauntered out, the AWPO has washed its hands of any responsibility for the obvious security lapses that allowed this to happen.
“What investigation will we do? The Delhi Police is investigating,” said Col. Amarjit Singh, director (admin) of the AWPO, who signed off on the contract. The AWPO, Singh said, had “nothing to do with this”.
Col. Singh is wrong. To be sure, the Delhi police is attempting to identify the masked assailants. Yet, as the security contract makes clear, the AWPO ultimately bears responsibility for security lapses.
Lt. Col. K.P.S. Rana (Retd), managing director of Cyclops Security And Allied Services Pvt. Ltd, the private security firm nominated by AWPO to guard the JNU campus, told HuffPost India that his agency has not received any communication from the JNU administration about an investigation into the incident.
“No such information has been conveyed to us. They (the JNU administration) may be meeting with the Crime Branch and Delhi Police,” he said.
While the Delhi Police is tasked with identifying those responsible for the violence, several students, teachers and security experts have pointed out grave lapses in Cyclops’s handling of the situation.
Manjeet Cheema, a former JNU Chief Security Officer (CSO) who left the university in 2008, said that it’s the JNU administration that’s ultimately answerable for the breach and the subsequent mishandling.
“The JNU security guards are fully controlled by the university’s security department. It’s the CSO who should be held most responsible. Where was he and what was he doing while the violence was happening?” he asked.
Naveen Yadav, JNU’s current CSO, told HuffPost India that he was not authorised to speak to the media and directed all queries to the university’s PRO Poonam Kudaisya.
Kudaisya told HuffPost India over the phone to email a list of questions to the vice-chancellor and her. This story will be updated if they respond.
JNU faculty, in the meantime, are outraged by the university administration’s seeming nonchalance towards campus security.
Professor D.K. Lobiyal, president of the JNU Teachers’ Association, told HuffPost India that they would demand for the removal of Cyclops from the campus.
“The JNU administration and the security agency are hand in glove with each other. So JNU will not do any investigation into this,” he alleged.
Fewer guards, more complaints
In 2019, the JNU administration decided its campus would henceforth be guarded by former army troopers. For about 20 years, JNU had been guarded at different points by private security agencies G4S and SIS, many of whose employees had been on the campus for years.
In January 2019, the university put out a tender for an agency that could deploy 400 guards on campus.
But minutes of an Executive Council meeting held on 30 July 2019 show that the security requirement was reduced to 250 after deliberating on two audit reports, one submitted by the CSO and the other by a committee headed by the dean of students.
It was at the same meeting that the Council authorised registrar Pramod Kumar to sign the tripartite agreement with AWPO and Cyclops.
Documents obtained under RTI by former JNUSU president N. Sai Balaji and reviewed by HuffPost India show that two agencies—AWPO and the defence ministry’s Directorate General Resettlement (DGR)—were invited to make presentations.
AWPO was chosen after it said it would take “total responsibility of any lapse in the day to day operations of the deployed staff under the agency during deployment period”, the documents show.
The guards were not organised at all while the attacks were going on. They just went into panic modeSarika Chaudhary, former vice-president of the JNU Students’ Union
On 18 September 2019, Cyclops took charge of the campus’s security. According to a petition filed in the Delhi high court by the All India General Kamgar Union, the university fired “around 500 security guards” without any notice.
Several students and teachers have told HuffPost India that after the violence broke out on 5 January, Cyclops security guards were missing from their posts or unprepared to deal with the attackers.
“The guards were not organised at all while the attacks were going on. They just went into panic mode,” said Sarika Chaudhary, former vice-president of the JNU Students’ Union.
“How did this large group of outsiders enter and leave campus?” asked former CSO Cheema. “And if you knew at least by afternoon that there was tension on the campus, why were the gates not closed?”
According to a report published in The Economic Times on 8 January, fewer than 100 guards were present on the campus when the assault took place.