Anil Puri, CMD
A thought leader and an action catalyzer rolled into one – Anil Puri is a rare combination of a visionary, and one who has mastered the art of strategic and tactical thinking to the core. He has been using this combination to seed new ideas and to lead them to their implementations on ground. This has been a consistent feature of his career. Here he writes about the National Lockdown imposed in wake of the pandemic caused by the Corona Virus and the challenges faced by the Private Security Industry.
The private security industry (PSI), comprising over 23000 private security agencies (PSAs) employing nearly 9 million security personnel, is the single largest employment generator in India. These security personnel protect the personal, corporate and industrial assets 24×7 across entire geographical contours of the nation. Probably that explains the reason why the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) included security services as part of the essential services. The wild speed of the spread of Corona Virus and the obvious absence of any vaccine for their treatment has added to the fear and gloom. Lessons learnt from the Chinese experience of combating the fatal impact of COVID 19 forced India for a pre-emptive surgical action to go for a 21 day national lockdown from 24 March to 14 April 2020 bringing the entire economic activity to a grinding halt. The implications of such a measure had never been foreseen in the corridors of corporate and industry as a whole; hence, it got trapped unprepared into an unchartered territory and is possibly still grappling to find ways to navigate through it.
Every industry has its own diverse yet specific peculiarities and so is the case with PSI. The footprints of the security services of a PSA could be global and hence has to face challenges at multiple geographical dimensions. However, restricting to the Indian context, the challenges for the PSI at ground zero are primarily on two fronts – ‘operational’ and ‘financial.’
Operational challenges broadly can be summed up as under:
- Panic amongst migratory population and their sudden move to return to native homes.
- Motivation of the security personnel to brace the pain of the lockdown.
- Fear of loss of jobs and salary on the minds of the security personnel due to the shutdown at client sites.
- Absence of public transport and restrictions on movement creating problem of commuting.
- Lack of personal protective equipment (PPE) at sites for the security personnel at front office or at main gate.
- Ban on the use of biometrics and issues of identification/ verification of identity.
- Absence of frisking and baggage screening due to the norm of social distancing.
- Non availability of temperature scanning devices in markets and at sites.
- Closure of street eateries, dhabas and hotels near the sites forcing provisioning of food and shelter at work site.
- Principal employer (PE) demanding colossal reduction in manpower deployed at site or face the termination of contract.
- Also out of the reduced manpower PE demanding conversion of 8 hrs duration of duty into 12 hrs.
- All new deployment and renewal of contracts put on hold.
- Blanket ban by MHA on lay off of employees.
Financial challenges transformed mainly into the following:
- Non-compliance of PE to honor the directions of the MHA to pay salary to security personnel as per contractual T&C.
- The applicability of the relief measures announced by the MoF as regards to PF and ESI only to the PSAs with upto 100 employees which form only 2% of the total PSAs on record. Thus passing on benefits to only a fraction of PSI and leaving the 98% high and dry.
- The economic package unveiled for the industries did gross injustice to the PSI by not treating it at par with other segments in terms of 90 day moratorium for payment of PF, ESI and GST. The levy of penalty of interest of 9% on those availing the moratorium of GST is more of a counterproductive step. It was an opportune time to have applied the Reverse Charge Mechanism or GST should have been made payable on amount collected from PE.
- Holding of salary by the PE in some cases.
- Additional cost of provisioning of food and shelter at site.
At this juncture I must highlight that the entire basket of the security services are not feasible to be delivered remotely at client premises as physical security does not work in virtual domain like the IT, ITEs – BPOs and KPOs – where employees can afford to work from home (WFH). While one fully appreciates the genuine humanitarian approach of the Govt at this juncture which is citizen welfare centric, and which aims at mitigation of problems of poor, population below poverty (BPL) and women folk to avoid pain caused by the lockdown. One also applauds the govt approach to keep the financial system on track. But in direct relation to PSI, the PEs who constitute the corporate must be made to honor the directions of the MHA to prevent cascading adverse effects to PSI due to job losses from lockdown. Notwithstanding the above, while we continue to brace the challenges of lockdown and race continues to find the vaccine, I strongly feel that there is a need for ‘think tanks’ to apply their mind on the following aspects of security:
- Security implications of the national lockdown.
- Meaning & implications of remote working for security.
- Crime trends during lockdown and its implications for security.
- Evolution of new technologies and processes like use of drones, AI, robotics, machine learning and IoT to deliver security services remotely.
- Evolution of SOPs of BCP to combat such crisis in addition to plans of NDMA & NDRF.
- Review – is security delivering during this crisis?
- Rethink – the role of women in security; and where do we go from here.