How safe is our precious money in the cash vans?

While cash vans make up to 8 trips a day to refill ATMs with currency post-demonetisation, the crores in cash are guarded by unskilled security men armed with rifles or air guns

Staffers load cash into the van
Staffers load cash into the van

In the demonetisation melee, the most eagerly awaited people are those riding in cash vans to refill ATMs with currency. Surprisingly, vans that ferry crores of rupees each time – they make up to eight trips a day now – are protected by unskilled guards armed with air guns and rifles.

Unfortunately, they cannot use anything more effective because a 2012 notification in Maharashtra had stated that weapon licences issued to guards should be either for personal defence or for protection of their assets. It would be illegal for them to use the licence for protection of banks or private companies.

Of the 20,000 security agencies in the country, around 50 are into cash management. These 50 employ 48,000 guards, yet barely any are trained in the use of weapons.

This fact came to light when mid-day spent a day with a cash management company last week.

High-risk job
Suneel Aiyer, CEO, Writer Safeguard Private Limited, and founder, Cash Logistics Association
“Maharashtra is one of the states where private security guards cannot use their weapons for commercial purposes; a notification for this has been in place since November 2012. We had spoken to the then Home Minister late R R Patil and requested his intervention, but, despite assurances, no concrete steps have been taken to resolve this issue till date.”

“Demonetisation has put us even more at risk of being attacked by robbers and we need to be well equipped to mitigate this risk. We have to ensure that we have properly armed and trained security personnel. As an association, we will be taking up the matter with the RBI and senior home department officials once again, seeking their intervention,” Aiyer said.

Kunwar Vikram Singh, chairman of the Central Association of Private Security Industry, Delhi, told mid-day, “We had mooted a proposal a few years ago to the Union Home Ministry, requesting that they allow our men to carry semi-automatic weapons, train them in their use and moreover have armours in every state where these weapons can be deposited. Let there be strict scrutiny done by the police before allowing licences for these weapons under the Indian Arms Act.”

A guard rides a cash van. Pic/ Nimesh Dave
A guard rides a cash van. Pic/Nimesh Dave

Matter pending with Centre
Singh added, “The union home ministry had accepted our request and constituted a committee a year ago, which had even made certain recommendations and submitted their report to the Union Home Secretary. This was then forwarded to Director Generals of Police of all states for their comments and suggestions. But, the matter is now pending before the Home Ministry.

Singh said, “The Indian private security industry is one of the largest employers in the country. We have a total staff strength of approximately 7 million, which is the largest in the World.

“And, our total workforce is higher than the total staff of the Police, Army, Navy and Airforce. We are one of the largest taxpayers and our yearly turnover is R1,586 lakh crore, which is expected to rise by R80,000 crore in 2020.”

The ministry of labour has already announced a revision in the salaries of private security guards to R15,000 for an eight-hour workday, provided they are trained and certified by the Security Sectors Skill Development Council under ministry of Skill Development.

Police order
State DGP Satish Mathur, said, “We stand by the order passed in 2012 and there are no changes to the same.”

A state police circular (a copy of which is with this paper) read, “A notification, dated November 2012, was issued by the then special inspector-general (law and order) Deven Bharti, which said state home minister RR Patil had said in March 2012 that private security guards who were using guns licensed for personal use and registered in other states but later converted into a national permit to be used for commercial purposes would be cancelled. “It’s illegal and cannot be allowed under any circumstances,” Bharti said.

Rifles, air guns
Deepak Shinde (47) has been on duty guarding cash vans for the past six months. The only weapon he holds is the air gun that his security agency from Goregaon gave him when he joined.

When asked if he had even done target practice or was trained in martial arts, he replied in the negative stating that he had earlier been working as a watchman but took this job as it was paying him R1,000 more, despite knowing the high risk involved.

A resident of Thane, Shinde said, “At one time, I can use a single pellet and I carry a few of them on me. Right now my gun is not loaded.”

Another armed guard Shankarlal Gokul Prasad (47), employed by Writers, carries his own 12 bore rifle and six bullets. Prasad had fired one round in Virar in 2004, when an attempt was made to steal cash of R5 lakh from the cash van that he was guarding. One of the robbers was injured.

A resident of Thane, Shankarlal claims to have had target practice. “I can hit a target from 100 metres away and can even kill the target. I have an All India licence for my weapon.”

When we asked company officials about them using untrained armed guards for security of cash vans, Amit Dheng, from the Operations department said, “As per the state police notification issued in 2012, none of the security agencies are supposed to carry armed weapons and if they are doing so, it is in their individual capacity. We, therefore, have to make do with air guns”

Case studies

ATM operators Bharat Vandare and Amit Utekar

Bharat Vandare (30), a resident of Kalyan and Amit Utekar (28) of Diva, work as ATM operators and have been carrying crores of rupees daily in and out of the ATMs and banks. Bharat said, “I have never seen this much cash in my life, but I know that I am responsible for any mismatch of currency at the ATM and in records. After the demonetisation announcement, I had made multiple trips to the same ATM to evacuate the old notes and then to refill it. Also, when the trunk is full of cash, we have to come to the office to empty it into the vault and then again head out for it to be refilled. This would happen even in the night hours.” Utekar said, “I had one of the most sensitive areas to cover [Bhiwandi], and especially at night we would return from ATM centres with large amounts of cash.  I was not worried as we had gunmen with us.” Interestingly, even these men had to wait in long queues at banks and ATMs to withdraw money for themselves. Bharat said, “We can’t exchange old notes with new as all the money in the ATM is accounted for.”

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