Jupinderjit Singh & Deepkamal Kaur
In the affluent enclave of Ludhiana’s Satluj Club, a gleaming white SUV glides to a halt. As the front passenger door swings open, a burly bouncer, dressed in a safari suit and armed with a shotgun, steps out. A trimmer figure, referred to as a personal security officer or PSO, emerges from the other side, sporting a pistol in the holster. Together, they carry out a quick surveillance of the surroundings before the 23-year-old scion of a cycle parts business family steps out. As he walks towards the club’s entrance, he is flanked by the two vigilant guards.
Number of licence holders
- Punjab has the eighth-highest number of licence holders for private security agencies at 1,834.
- Gujarat is at the top with 5,897. Maharashtra is slightly behind at 5,839.
- Not all licence holders actually operate agencies. Against 39,200 licences issued under PSARA, 21,781 are active.
- Anyone can take a licence and being an ex-uniformed person is not mandatory.
There was a time when such scenes would pass off as individuals showing off their influence in Punjab’s power circles, and not be an indicator of any threat to life. The difference now is that these are private security guards, not men in khaki. Having police security guards has long been seen as a status symbol, but it comes with its own set of issues, including the withdrawal of security when the police require additional personnel. Also, the extensive pruning exercise carried out by Punjab Police has led to many individuals losing their security cover or a reduction in the number of men in the security detail.
A trend that is sweeping through the industrial hubs of Punjab is of wealthy citizens hiring their own ‘private security officers’ and bouncers. The more imposing their weapons and the more muscular the build, the better.
A retired police officer employed as a security consultant reveals that people are now directly approaching bouncers, mainly through gyms. “It is simple. People who face a real threat to life and property will approach the police for security while others are hiring private guards. This category includes people who need the cover of bouncers to walk in a safe bubble in public. And also those who just flaunt muscle men as a status symbol,” he says. Like this real estate dealer in Ludhiana, who requests anonymity: “My motive behind keeping security guards is that it makes a powerful impression on clients and the other dealers. It is similar to driving an expensive car and flaunting it.”
The owner of a Ludhiana-based security agency, however, points out that the surge in the demand for private guards is not just to show off. “That mentality is there of course, but many seek private security owing to the threats they are facing. Industrialists, real estate dealers, jewellers and liquor and sand contractors have hired guards because of threats from gangsters and terrorists.” Another reason, he says, is that the police have tightened the process of assigning uniformed personnel.
Those who have gone in for a private security cover say it is not easy to get security from Punjab Police despite the threat perception, “as only influential businessmen with political connections are able to manage it”.
Jalandhar-based industrialist Narinder Singh Saggoo, who had received extortion calls of Rs 5 crore and death threats in May, had got police security at the time of the incident. “The police had arrested the accused, who was my ex-employee, but he is now out on bail. Since the police personnel provided to me and my family are not enough, I had to hire two private security personnel,” he says.
“My son also got threats at that time. My wife, sons, their wives and my grandkids — all have to move out in different directions during the day. I have to be sure about the safety of every family member and hence there is a need for private security,” he adds. In Jalandhar, not just the private security agencies, even gym owners provide trained bodyguards and bouncers, Saggoo points out.
Amritsar-based businessman Suresh Saggar claims he was attacked thrice last year while going to his factory and still had to move an application in the High Court to get a policeman for his protection. “The cops are yet to arrest the culprits,” he says.
Capt Baldev Singh Aujla (retd), who runs a security agency in Jalandhar, says there has been a growing demand for private guards from industrialists. “Being an ex-serviceman myself, I know how to train my employees. In fact, most men coming to me are those who have already served in the defence services.”
Arun of Kalash Security Services in Jalandhar claims having trained close to a hundred gunmen and bouncers for security duty. “While earlier there was more demand for institutional security, now men are deployed for personal security. I have devised a proper training module, which includes classroom teaching as well as practical and arms training.”
Punjab Police give licences to private security agencies under the Private Security Agencies Regulation Act (PSARA).
ADGP (Security) SS Srivastava, who oversees the process under PSARA, says, “On an average, we receive about 15 applications for such licences every month. The police also monitor their working and carry out inspections. This year, licences of six agencies have been suspended for non-compliance with established regulations.”
While the Police Recruits Training Centre at Jahan Khelan, Hoshiarpur, had started providing training to men and women for employment as private security guards in 2008, the practice was stopped four years ago. Police officials attribute it to shifting resources for training recruits as police constables. Now, only the Punjab Ex-Servicemen Corporation Limited (PESCO) is providing training to private security guards in Mohali and Bathinda.
PESCO is the official body responsible for providing trained and experienced security guards to government institutions, private establishments and individuals. According to Brig TS Mundi (retd), the managing director of PESCO, there is a high demand for hiring ex-servicemen as security guards. “Ex-servicemen are an elite category among security guards. They have faced insurgency situations and are well-trained for defence and combat duty. We have approximately 14,000 ex-servicemen deployed in various security roles, including vital installations. Often, the demand surpasses the supply.”
However, in recent times, many ex-servicemen have chosen to work with private security agencies rather than the government because of better wages.
There has been a mushrooming of private security companies in the past few years. A manager at one such agency has interesting queries of his own. “If you need a bouncer, what weight are you looking for?” he asks. “A bouncer weighing more than 100 kg can be hired for Rs 30,000 per month. Charges increase for those weighing 110 kg or more, particularly if they have a muscular physique,” he explains, with unwavering seriousness. And if they weigh less than 100 kg, say 80 or 90 kg? “You can hire them for Rs 25,000 or less. But what would you do with a sub-100 kg bouncer? At least, go for someone who inspires awe and can handle four or five people when necessary,” he chuckles. Inquiries about hiring a guard with a weapon receive a similarly measured response. “You mean a pistol guard?” he asks, elucidating that a ‘PSO’ is an armed guard, often an ex-serviceman, with both a weapon and a valid arms licence. The charges depend on their experience and whether they possess a regional or an all-India arms licence.
Different fee structures apply to security guards wielding pistols or double-barrel guns, colloquially referred to as ‘donalli’. “It’s all about the impact on the public,” he emphasises. A well-trained individual with weapons can offer better protection, with charges starting at Rs 30,000 and going up.”
Private security agencies offer employment opportunities but are often accused of exploiting the security personnel. This is particularly evident in the case of guards assigned to residential properties, clusters of shops and educational institutions. These guards typically earn about Rs 12,000 per month, with no additional benefits such as housing allowance, uniform, provident fund or subsidised medical treatment. Moreover, these guards often work extended shifts of 12 hours instead of the maximum eight-hour workday, with their weekly off days compromised.
Brig Mundi notes that the wage structure for security guards and supervisors offered by the Punjab government is at least half of what private agencies pay. “The Chandigarh administration offers the highest wages in the region, followed by the Centre. Haryana is third on the list and Punjab ranks fourth. We have been urging the government to raise wages to match or exceed those offered by others,” he says.
As per the UT wages, a security guard gets at least Rs 26,000 (besides allowances), while the Ministry of Defence’s minimum monthly wage is Rs 23,000. Haryana specifies the wage at Rs 17,000 while Punjab gives a minimum of about Rs 12,400.
Having businesses in Jalandhar and Ludhiana, Harpreet Singh has a matter-of-fact explanation for hiring private security: “I have to often travel at odd hours for work and it is no longer safe to do so alone. The law and order situation is worsening because of unemployment and other social reasons. There are several locations along highways where even the streetlights are not functional.” He has chosen to hire men on a permanent basis rather than seeking Punjab Police security. “It was a decision based solely on pragmatism,” he says.
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