City and security: What security are we talking about?

As a resident of a cooperative housing society, how secure are you?

If the uniformed security guard is the cause for your comfort, you had better re-examine your assessment because what you get is not security. At least, in most cases, not just enough.

You just get men in uniform. Period.

The guy could well be, and in most cases are, just anybody who is looking for a livelihood, between the informal sector jobs, or even a person who fled to the city because of the terrible life in the rural areas.

Sajjad Mughal, the society guard who allegedly killed Pallavi Purkayastha in her flat at Wadala in Mumbai. Image courtesy CNN-IBN

Sajjad Mughal, the society guard who allegedly killed Pallavi Purkayastha in her flat at Wadala in Mumbai. Image courtesy CNN-IBN

The security agencies, if not all, certainly most, just find these guys and post them at your building gates and, from anecdotal evidence, are raw. Being unregistered, the security contractor does not even consider training them.

Just ask at random if the security man in your building knows the number of the local police station. You are likely to draw a blank.

And yet, as many as 3,000 security men, with unlicensed guns, had fled the city when police began to enquire into the antecedents of these guards after the arrest of one who allegedly murdered a girl in a Wadala flat. As many as 21 of them were held for illegal possession of arms; given their large numbers involved, the police may have given up on the chase for the rest.

However, the question remains: how can a security provider allow deployment of illegal arms? And, to start with, were they even trained in their use?

But we are jumping the gun.

Security in housing societies is at best nominal.

The culpability of the societies in this regard cannot, and should not, be ignored.

To them, the security arrangements are to be also seen from the financial angle. Say, for a tower with 80 flats, the number of security men is about the same as a building with eight flats. The per flat expense met from the society budget is lower in the case of the former and crippling with regard to the latter.

They settle for what fits their pockets after much bargain with the security agencies which promise competence from trained personnel. Fact is, the persons assigned to your building is not even familiarised with the minimum like the use of the intercom. Some do their night shifts without even a baton or stick. Neither the societies pay attention to this need nor does the agent provide it. A torch would be rare. Past midnight, a sleepy guard is more likely a feature of your society’s security arrangement.

But this compromise with quality adversely impinges on the safety of the residents of a building. There are people deployed who are barely literate and just cannot read the details on an identity card of a visitor and allow the arrival to enter his details, hoping it would be accurate, in the register in the lobby. Try reading that, and also try figuring out who came at what time.

It is not uncommon to find an entry 'courier' without even a name. Or 'parcel' for a door delivery. And any well-dressed couple can enter the building to be given a right of way without even being asked to identify themselves. It is as if a neatly dressed pair is not a security risk. There is perhaps a class thing here: Saab, shayad guest the, hum kaise sawal karenge?

Duties include looking after the water supply, turning the motor on and off to pump it up to the overhead tank. It includes, depending on the housing societies’ outlook. Less careless ones about their safety do not have compunctions about diverting the guy to other work – carrying someone’s luggage to the lift, for instance.

If the guard is a bit steely, he may regulate the parking of visitors. If not, he may even be scared to reveal which child hit the ball for a sixer shattering a window pane. The feeling is that though the salary comes from the society via the agent who takes his cut without supervising the work, they are society member’s employee. Who know which of them would be in the next managing committee?

These guards who come from distant rural areas tend to go home at the time of a wedding or times when they are needed to help out at sowing or harvesting of a family farm plot. Their return is never certain. It is not unusual for the absentee guard to provide another rookie as a substitute whose inept skills compound the security woes.

The agency you deal with is not even involved in supervising, especially during nights, if his manpower is at the task. It is left to the society office bearers who are not necessarily enthusiastic of getting up at unearthly hours to go see if the guard is napping.

A police official had once told me that this type of security apparatus does not help. At best, they keep the amateur, small time thief or burglar away. His advice was that a combination of man, animal and machine would be the best combination – that is, a security man with training, a dog fierce enough to deter an outsider on a misadventure. The security cameras help if a crime is committed.

No doubt these guards who are on 12-hour shifts 365 days are so poorly paid that they look for a second job. If they find it, often another security assignment elsewhere, then both work locations gets poorer service. However, there is no guarantee that higher wages would always get an improved service. That would only be a hope.

But of course, there would be exceptions for there are a few well-organised security agencies. In a city like Mumbai, their proportion would be far too low. Rest just make do.

Updated Date: Feb 18, 2013 17:51 PM

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