The state of wellness of private security industry (PSI) is directly related to the health of Indian economy. Finance is the lifeline of any business, and if the revenue generation pipeline gets dry, the businesses cannot survive. The COVID shock has been so sudden that the road to recovery has become very rocky and bumpy, marred with multiple intangibles, and full of hurdles. The statistical data unleashed by the RBI Governor only spells gloomy economic scene slipping into recession with negative growth of GDP as all indicators appear to be nosediving, and thereby fragility of Indian economy has come to the surface. The short term quick-fixes can only ease the situation temporarily as full-fledged recovery in long term requires a sound road map built on many unorthodox and out of the box measures resulting from the equations needed to be made between GOI and states, PE and security provider, micro enterprises and the migrant labor, MSME and Banks and so on. We have tried to put the rail back on track but now we may have to lay the new tracks to restore its stability, speed, and over all comfort to all stakeholders in the journey.
The hurdles in the journey to the recovery are visible on the wall in ‘big and bold’ letters and can best be summarized as under:
- Lack of coordination between the Central Government and certain State Governments – their muscle flexing and incoherent and shifting strategies.
- The murky handling of issues of migrant labor such as false promises of salary and food, and no demand of rent during the lockdown period and directives to this effect. Their subsequent reversal led to the despair and exodus of migrant labor leaving the factories and production lines without workforce.
- Abrupt disruption of demand and supply chain due to the direct impact of lockdown that was clearly punctuated with near term uncertainty.
- The ‘poor to no’ visibility in reversal of cycle of manufacturing and service sector post lockdown due to domestic and global fragmentation of demand and supply chain and also for the possibility of migrant labor returning to work in delayed time-frame.
- Failure of financial stimulus and its sluggish implementation to trigger economic stability. The extension of moratorium on payment of loans to the banks also added to woes of the banks and liquidity in the financial sector.
- Lack of any definite time-line in the discovery of vaccine against CORONA infection despite the global efforts by the pharmaceutical companies is another dampener.
- Non-flattening of the COVID curve and unprecedented spike in daily cases of CORONA infection despite over 70 days of lockdown is a cause of constant worry.
- The casual and irresponsible behavior of certain cross section of citizens towards police, doctors and other health workers in fight against CORONA added retrograde steps and undesired controversies.
- Fishing in dirty waters by the political parties during such turbulent times has led to misinformation campaigns which added pain to the poor, confusion in the social media, and exposed them of their falsehood of little care for the cause of poor.
- The devastation and misery inflicted by Amphan cyclone in states of West Bengal and Odisha, and Nisarg in Maharashtra and Gujarat have also added to the barriers on the road to recovery.
- Delayed or lack of pro-activeness in luring the Japanese and American companies from China to India.
The horizon for the PSI looks hazy as the impact of pandemic is unprecedented and un-paralleled. It has inflicted deep rooted fear psychosis and behavioral changes in the mass and entrepreneurs. The wheels of economy like travel and tourism, transportation, education, hospitality and entertainment, shopping, manufacturing and servicing will be subjected to the new normal and will have to tread with caution to come to the original scale and volume. These are the sectors of hope and revival for PSI as banking and financial sectors are the only source of oxygen for survival and lease of life during the crisis. The conflict of interest between Mall owners and retailers over rentals for lock down period remains unresolved. PSAs are still contesting with PE for fulfilling their obligations. The travel and tourism is likely to ignite the demand for railways and domestic air travel which in turn will generate demand for hospitality and entertainment. Consumption will fuel the manufacturing and servicing. The PSI will have to traverse the parallel path with unlocking of economy as it unfolds.
THE SILVER LININGS
To my mind, despite the above, there are some silver linings which can still be counted:
- High degree of rate of recovery of COVID patients.
- The relative low fatality rate of COVID patients in India – exception being the high risk groups with pre-existing co-morbidities.
- Likelihood of good and timely monsoon as predicted by IMD.
- Bumper crop output from agriculture sector and adequate buffer stock of food grain.
- Proactive role of RBI and presence of adequate Forex reserves.
- Likelihood of consumption demand surging from rural areas.
- Lack of jobs in rural areas will force migrant labor to rethink and result into their return to work.
To keep afloat the PSA and PSI have limited options to keep searching for avenues of expansion of revenue growth, keep engaged with the existing clients, resort to cost cutting, pruning of work force in offices, aggressive collections strategy, remote delivery of training, adoption of new technologies and processes, and wait & watch for wheel of economy to rumble on new track with new normal. However, the entrepreneurial and fighting spirit of the PSI will ensure that they not only weather the challenges of COVID times but will emerge stronger than ever before.