Bangalore: Indian companies are waking up to the real threat that terror attacks pose and scrambling to get paramilitary protection—for a price—to strengthen or replace the security cover they are provided by private firms.

Security cover: CISF personnel at the Infosys campus in Bangalore. The IT firm will pay Rs3.65 crore a year to the paramilitary force. Shailendra Bhojak / PTI

CISF has received requests from 76 more private sector firms for protection and is processing 10 of these, including ones from Reliance Industries Ltd’s (RIL) refinery in Jamnagar, Indian Hotel Co. Ltd’s Taj Mahal Palace and Tower in Mumbai and Wipro Ltd, according to Rohit Katiyar, spokesperson for CISF.

Although India has several private security agencies, current laws prohibit these firms from arming their guards with automatic weapons. Apart from automatic weapons, CISF guards have wireless equipment that operates on a secure channel, and explosives detection units.

Infosys sought protection from CISF in 2006, a year when Bangalore was abuzz with rumours of possible terror attacks targeting the city’s information technology (IT) firms. But the CISF Act that governs the paramilitary force didn’t allow it to protect private sector firms. CISF guards 328 installations across the country, including state-owned firms, atomic, defence and space research establishments, and airports.

In February, the country’s Parliament amended the Act, allowing CISF to provide cover to private sector firms—for a fee. The move was partly a response to November’s terror strikes in Mumbai, where terrorists with sophisticated weapons attacked the Taj Mahal hotel, the Trident hotel, a hospital and a railway station, killing at least 183 people.

At Infosys, a 100-member quick-reaction force from CISF trained in anti-terror operations and armed with automatic weapons will patrol the software firm’s campus. The firm will pay Rs3.65 crore a year to CISF.

The company also plans to retain the services of the 345 guards from a private security firm who have so far protected the campus.

“It (the CISF team) is for added protection, they will provide an overlay cover," says T.V. Mohandas Pai, head of human resources at Infosys.

Electronics City next

Following Infosys, another Bangalore-based software services firm, Wipro, and the Electronics City, the IT hub on the city’s outskirts where one in seven tech workers of the city is employed, will get its cover. The country’s first industrial estate for IT companies has 157 members, including Infosys, Wipro, Hewlett-Packard Co. and General Electric Co., which together employ at least 100,000 software and hardware professionals.

Photo: Aijaz Rahi / AP

A Wipro executive said that CISF had already surveyed the company’s facilities. “In the changed scenario since 26/11 (the Mumbai attacks in November), there is requirement for a force that can act as a deterrent in case of a terror threat. CISF will provide us the cover," said Lakshman Badiga, corporate vice-president at Wipro.

A CISF officer, who heads the security detail for a state-owned firm in Bangalore, said the constant training of personnel and their deployment in different units across the country makes CISF more combat-ready than guards in private security firms. He asked not to be identified.

While it hasn’t been providing cover for private sector firms, CISF has, for at least a decade, been providing security consulting services to such firms.

Meanwhile, an association of private security firms is lobbying the government for the use of automatic weapons. “The government’s role should be in maintaining law and order, not provide security to private industries. We will do the job effectively if we can possess the same (type of ) automatic weapons (as CISF)," said Kunwar Vikram Singh, chairman of the Central Association of Private Security Industry (Capsi), a union of private security firms that together employ 5.5 million workers across India.

Capsi has petitioned the government to allow private security firms to own automatic weapons and arm former servicemen on their rolls—one in every seven workers at such firms has a service record—with them.

The government has mandated security cover for petroleum and natural gas refineries and rigs, software and IT companies, airports and seaports, and power plants.

With rising demand for its services, CISF is looking to hire 10,000 people every year between now and 2012. It currently employs 112,000.