Gurgaon: Sardan Parihar earns Rs3,000 a month to protect several times that in a residential colony in Gurgaon.
The 22-year-old says his job training lasted 15 minutes. The training highlight: learning how to salute residents. He cannot read, not even the licence plates of passing cars.
Training under way at the ICON Security Training School in Gurgaon
Pradeep Kumar, 25, from Jalpaiguri, West Bengal, makes about the same to guard the same neighbourhood but for a different security company. He says his employer has instructed him to check in with the office—a km away—in the event of any emergency, even a time-sensitive one such as a fire.
Across urban and urbanizing India, the frenetic pace of development coupled with a fear of crime have made security guards a staple outside offices and residences alike. In this expanding New Delhi suburb, Parihar and Kumar are among the countless yet growing number of guards tasked with securing this so-called Millennium City of mega malls, housing complexes and glass-paned industrial towers.
But, as the buildings have climbed higher, so too have the area’s crime rates, say residents and civic leaders, who have gotten so desperate that some pay extra fees for additional security. In the wake of both high-profile and low-profile crimes in Gurgaon recently, though, residents wonder what good the guards are doing and if they are sufficiently trained.
As in many sectors across the country, high demand for a profession has spawned high attrition, itself a threat to security. In at least one case, a security firm is trying to increase training and toughen recruitment to address the concerns. “We don’t feel safe,” said B.K. Dhawan, president of the Federation of Apartment Owners’ Association in Haryana. “The security guards are not properly supervised and not properly equipped.”
Thefts and burglaries have risen in Gurgaon in the past two months partly, security experts said, because of the increasing gap between the very wealthy and the very poor.
The city has emerged as India’s unofficial outsourcing hub, filled with call centres that have created an all-night culture. More and more multinational corporations have staked their India headquarters in the city and wages have skyrocketed—for some. According to a survey by Cybermedia Dice Careers Ltd and research firm TNS, the average salary for software workers with less than five years of experience in Gurgaon was above Rs6 lakh last year.
Skyrocketing rents, meanwhile, have forced those who work in the growing retail and restaurant sector to live in the shadows of the gated communities, in slums and villages. Home rarely has the amenities of their workplaces—continuous water or electricity, for example.
In the past few months, Gurgaon’s crime has made national headlines. This month, executive Deepak Mendiratta, 32, of Adroit Quest, was found beaten up after he had gone missing from Gurgaon for 10 days. He said he was abducted, drugged and attacked by a mafia. On 27 July alone, six houses were broken into in Sun City, a development in south Gurgaon. In July, over 50 vehicles were registered as stolen in Gurgaon, according to statistics on the Haryana Police website.
Fewer than one out of every 10 private security guards in Gurgaon is trained sufficiently, according to retired major general Satbir Singh, one of three retired generals who started ICON Securities in Palam Vihar, a northern section of Gurgaon. Singh claims that his firm is the only Gurgaon security company that offers first-rate training. The Private Security Agencies Regulation Act in 2005 lays out regulations for private security agencies: potential guards must endure 162 periods of training lasting 45 minutes each, complete up to class 10, pass physical standards, and be between 18 and 65 years of age.
But most states in India, including Haryana, have failed to implement it. Thus, the highly fragmented and unorganized security industry continues to function unregulated, said Singh. According to the trade body Central Association of Private Security Industry, the sector has been growing 20-25% every year. This is especially true in the high-end colonies of Gurgaon where residents are willing to pay more, said Dhawan, who lives in the Silver Oaks Apartments built by DLF Ltd, which developed much of the erstwhile farmlands. Dhawan said residents in high-end colonies pay an average of Rs1,600 for each unit, on top of rent or mortgages for amenities such as private security, cleaning and general maintenance.
Singh said his company has trained about 1,000 guards in the past three years. He said ICON securities is the only residential training academy in North Delhi to provide the required training, which takes about four weeks to complete.
For Rs3,500, trainees at ICON learn what it takes to become guards, fulfilling the legal requirements, on one-and-a-half acres of land. ICON has the capacity to house and teach 200 guards but averages about 40 a month, said Singh. As of now, ICON said it makes approximately Rs200 for every guard that goes through the programme. The company recruits in villages for potential guards and guarantees them a job with a minimum salary of Rs5,000 after a month of crisis management, weapons, behavioural and legal training.
Security boot camp at ICON begins at 5am in the summer and 6.30am in the winter. The outdoor training includes a 40-minute run, pull-ups, pushups and long jumps, said Singh. Breakfast and showers are at 8-9am, followed by classroom training that covers, among other topics, first aid, English usage, legal aspects of the job, and gate-duties.
Break time is 4-5pm. Two nights a week the guards participate in night training drills.
R.D. Khan, 22, came to ICON from the Alwar district in Rajasthan after he couldn’t get past the medical test required for the Indian Army; he saw an ad for ICON in a local paper.
He’s one of the fastest and strongest of approximately 20 guards that are in training for the month.
He said he chose not to farm because his family doesn’t have much land. He said he wants to improve his economic situation and has never been employed. He won’t get married or have children until he has a stable job, he says. “I have no money to feed myself. How can I feed a family?” Khan said.
ICON’s enrolment is precarious. Because cities such as Gurgaon and security firms themselves are not implementing training standards, participation is not as high as it could be, said Singh. The company sometimes allows trainees to reimburse ICON after they are employed because many can’t afford the course. Because many trainees are poor, sometimes they come merely for a place to eat and sleep, and then take off after a few days, said retired major general R.N. Wadehra, a founder of the company. Guards will also leave if they are offered a higher salary than they were paid before enrolment. “The typical guard is unemployed, very poor, has very little land and has exhausted all other avenues,” said Wadehra. “Security is not seen as a real profession because there is no advancement system within private security.”
A few months ago, the Gurgaon police suggested that residents could hire trained guards from Gurgaon police who would be on the payrolls of Haryana police. But the cost of such guards would be exorbitant, said Bhawani Shankar Tripathy, general secretary of the Joint Action Forum of Residents Association in Gurgaon. In addition, “there were questions about the implications of non-performances of such guards… Nobody bit, so it was not mentioned again,” said Tripathy.
Calls to Haryana Police for comment were not returned; follow-up phone calls went unanswered. An official at the ministry of home affairs, which oversees national security policies, said he could not comment and passed a reporter onto another official, who also could not comment. Haryana police did not return calls for comment; police commissioner Mahendra Lal has told Hindustan Times, that police are close to busting the gang suspected of the kidnapping. Mint’s publisher HT Media Ltd also publishes Hindustan Times.
Gurgaon is not alone in its security fears. Gated colonies in Noida, another suburb of Delhi marked by rapid development, also are contending with security breaches, said Shishir Kant, who heads administration and facility management at four sites for ATS Infrastructure Ltd. “In the past couple of months, two to three burglaries have taken place,” he said, adding that he thinks someone like a maid, servant or security guard is giving thieves inside information.
Untrained security guards in Mumbai are a problem too. Police commissioner Anami Narayan Roy said the securities agencies Act has not yet been implemented in the city, but will be, soon. “Most of them are not trained at all,” said Roy. “They are not properly regulated, their background checks have not been done and it’s possible that some of the guards have criminal backgrounds. “It is incumbent on these security agencies to make sure they are qualified. The security is not compromised, but if you have better trained personnel, the situation will improve.”
In part, residents were lured to these suburbs and new communities for their pools, gyms, even golf courses—and security. Now they say they feel let down.
Sonya Naganathan, 33, and her husband, who works in the information technology sector, live in Malibu Towne Condominiums in Gurgaon. “Security needs to do a better job of not letting unknown people inside,” she said, adding that thefts and burglaries are not uncommon.
As for the guards themselves, most say they are always on the lookout for the next best thing. Kumar sends Rs500 a month to his mother in West Bengal and survives on the little left. But he’s still making more than what he made working on the farm back home. Even so, the 12-hour days with little pay are becoming too much, he says. He is looking for a new job.