It’s 8:30 pm. Kishore is hurriedly putting his tiffin box in his bag as he gets up from the plastic chair he had been sitting on for almost the entire day at Gate Number 2 of the Mahagun Mascot, a residential society in Greater Noida. It doesn’t matter if the sun is beating down or if it’s raining, Kishore has to stay put. That is his brief as one of the many security guards of the society.
“/Subah 8 se shaam 8 ki duty rehti hai… ab kehte hain aadhe ghante aur pehle aao jab shift badli hoti hai/… handover /kar ke jao…aur shaam ko bhi/ extra /aadha ghanta ruk kar/ handover /kar ke jao. Bataiye 12 ke jagah ab 13 ghante rukna padta hai/ (Now I have to put in extra 30 minutes in the morning and night for shift handover. The 12-hour has become a 13-hour one now),” says Kishore, keeping his voice low, as he asks me for a ride on my bike till Gate No. 1.
Frustration is a common thread running among the many private security guards working in Delhi-NCR residential societies. “Our life is worse than those of animals. It’s a job of 12 hours without a weekly off. Sometimes it is night duty, some times it is day shift. If you are late by half an hour, they immediately deduct money),” says Santosh Yadav, a guard at GH7 in Ghaziabad.
Yadav and Kishore are among over 50 lakh security personnel who are currently engaged in the private security space. In Uttar Pradesh, there are 1,368 registered security agencies. Delhi has over 250 as per estimates.
The draw of high-rise societies in Delhi-NCR is the safety and security that they provide amid reports of theft and robbery in builder flats and independent houses. However, the fact remains that those standing guard in these societies have little security of their jobs and salaries as they continue to work in pitiable conditions with even weekly offs being rare.
So even as the term chowkidar is a much-used in the high voltage election politics of the day, the actual chowkidars are a forgotten lot, struggling for basic rights as workers and humans.
Employers and agencies that supply guards use legal loopholes to exploit hapless job seekers. “It is a largely small scale and unorganised sector that is handling it. And despite the Private Security Agencies Regulation Act (PSARA) 2005, the entry barrier is low and there is corruption and government inefficiency in the renewal of licences. This leads to a situation where small businesses, as part of cost-cutting and to be able to provide services to clients at lower costs, avoid complying with labour laws. Big MNCs do so for the sake of profits,” explains advocate Ravi Singhania, an expert on Labour law.
According to the Labour Department, this exploitation can only end if the guards come forward and register their complaint. There can be no action without a formal complaint. “According to the latest inspection policy of the UP government, inspection can only be done on the basis of the complaint filed. We cannot randomly make a raid or inspection. If a complaint is filed we have to take permission from the competent authority and then only can we act,” explains Deputy Labour Commissioner (Ghaziabad) Pankaj Singh Rana.
“If the complaint is found to be genuine…whatever provision is given in the Minimum Wages Act (MWA) we act accordingly. If a guard is getting less than the MWA, he can file a court complaint. If the charges are found to be true, the complainant can get up to ten times the minimum wages along with penalty,” added Rana.
Asked if suo moto action can be taken against these agencies, Rana said, “It was allowed earlier. Now the right to random inspection has been withdrawn. Now we can act only if a complaint is registered.”
“These agencies are governed by PSARA. But all their provisions are blatantly violated by the agencies who look at it as a business opportunity to hire unskilled labour and deploy them as security guards. The police are also supporting them,” says Sanjay Singh, former president of the Residential Welfare Association of a Noida society. He says that while rules mandate that agencies have to be registered by the police, this is managed “very easily”.
“See there are 1,368 registered security agencies as per record in UP. But you can check the ESI record. Does it match with the number of employees they have? Untrained guards are hired without paperwork. These agencies are charging exorbitant money from the builders and not even paying the guards accordingly,” added Sinha.
He also said, “If the commissioner says the new inspection policy prevents him from taking suo moto action, why doesn’t he create awareness among the guards and talk to them to come forward and register a complaint. Why the authority is not taking them into confidence.”
On the condition of anonymity, an official of the labour department said this business is a source of employment for many and that is why the government also does not act. “The government’s policy of ease of doing business has given these agencies a free hand. Farmers, villagers, illiterate people get an easy job of standing outside a gate and get paid monthly. That is why they also don’t complaint because after all they are getting employment,” said the official.
The Minimum Wages Act, 1948, specifies the working hours and the weekly rest day for a worker. The guards are categorised as unskilled, semi-skilled and skilled labours. In UP, the basic pay of unskilled guards (Danda Man, Security Guards without arms, Chaprasi (peon), Suraksha Chowkidar) is Rs 5,750+Dearness allowance, while that of semi-skilled (Security guards without arms (Trained and ex-servicemen) is Rs 6,325 + DA and that of skilled guards (Security guards with arms (with arm license), accountants, manager, branch head, assistant security officer, bouncers) is Rs 7,085 + DA. While the DA is revised every month or so, there is provision for four paid holidays per month to them.
The Minimum Wages Act is a central act and states have been given authority to decide the salary. Each state and union territory has an advisory board that recommend the wages. “Based on their recommendation the state govt decide the minimum wage. States decide the salary as per their paying capacity. A guard in Delhi can get Rs 15000, but it can’t be same for a guard working in Jharkhand or Sikkim,” says Rana.
Asked about the poor pay structure of the guards, an official of SIS Agency said, “I can’t say about other agencies, but we do pay our employee as per the Minimum Wages Act. In fact, in case of death on duty, we provide Rs 1 lakh as compensation immediately.” However, asked about the salary of guards and their weekly rest day, he asked us to approach the HR department. “I don’t have the data with me.”
The private security guards don’t even have a proper union that can raise voice on their behalf. “We are trying to organise them. We want them to join us. But so far we haven’t succeeded. Not just the guards in residential societies or private offices, even those guarding Delhi secretariat are poorly paid and don’t get rest days,” said Amit Kumar, leader of Bhawana Industrial Area Trade Union.