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Private security personnel will not be allowed to carry arms at airports and, therefore, their deployment at the airport outer security ring is ruled out. Pic: iStock

Agniveers, via private agencies, may share airport security duties with CISF

The CISF, which handles security at 65 airports, deploying over 30,000 personnel, will gain vastly by a hybrid model where private agencies handle non-critical duties; Agniveers will be the favoured recruits

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The next time you head towards the security check queue at the airport to catch your flight, don’t be surprised if your boarding card is scrutinised by a private security personnel. The Union government plans to usher in a “hybrid” system of security at airports that will involve deployment of personnel from private security agencies, just like your neighbourhood ATM, for “less sensitive” tasks to ease the burden on the Central Industrial Security Force (CISF).

The 1.63-lakh strong CISF will continue to handle the sensitive points at airports and the move to lessen its burden is due to growing demand from other quarters including the rapidly expanding metro network in various states.

Also read: 3,000 CISF posts at airports abolished; pvt security guards, tech tools inducted

The Bureau of Civil Aviation Security (BCAS) and the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) are starting on the “hybrid” security model with the Kolkata airport and others are likely to follow suit soon. The initial batch of security guards for the Kolkata airport are undergoing training now and the BCAS will be responsible for overseeing their preparedness, certifying their capability and also providing access permission for them at airports. 

The DGCA will be responsible for overseeing associated activities like interaction between these security guards and employees of various organisations like airlines that operate out of airports.

Overstretched CISF

The CISF looks after security at 65 airports, deploying over 30,000 personnel of various ranks. During 2020 and 2021, the standard operating procedures at various airports went through changes due to COVID guidelines and the number of passengers transiting through airports also declined significantly.

Capacity utilisation at the airports has increased sharply this year as vaccination has eased the travel jitters, and manpower requirement for most functions including security has increased. At the same time, CISF is facing increasing demand from the corporate sector, government installations, metro network, ports, power plants and nuclear plants as their operations have also expanded.

Since CISF is not expanding fast enough to accommodate the growing demand, the Centre has decided to go for the “hybrid” mode of security cover, highly-placed Civil Aviation Ministry sources said. In many countries, private agencies handle several functions at airports including security, they added.

Also read: Parandur airport: Villagers vexed over land loss, reduced guideline value

CISF is also expected to get a larger role in providing security to the Central Vista project that includes the new Parliament building, Prime Minister’s residence, brand new offices for MPs and a new residence for the Vice-President. Therefore, the burden on the force is expected to increase further. 

Under such circumstances, the induction of private security at airports is expected to provide some relief to CISF personnel. 

The Congress, however, has criticised the move, alleging that it would compromise airport security.

Agniveers in line

Since the trend of increasing demand for CISF security is likely to linger, authorities foresee a situation where Agniveers would be drafted in for airport security. Agniveers will be trained personnel suited to handling key access control and security functions at important infrastructure installations and can look after supervisory roles with responsibility, Civil Aviation Ministry officials emphasised.

Also read: What Agniveers can expect after four years

Private security agencies can get access to trained manpower by tapping into the pool of  Agniveers who will be available after four years. Manpower shortage in this segment will be met over a period of time, the officials believe. In any case, retired Army, Navy and Air Force personnel run most private security agencies and key management positions are also manned by ex-servicemen.

The Union government has made it clear that deployment of retired Agniveers at airports would be preferred. “After four years of military service, the Agniveers are expected to be fit, disciplined and motivated professionals,” Civil Aviation Minister Jyotiraditya Scindia recently stated in Parliament in response to a question from AAP’s Rajya Sabha Member Sushil Kumar Gupta. 

“Many of them, especially the ones involved in aircraft maintenance, flight safety, air-cargo, supply chain, administrative, IT and drones etc, will have valuable experience that will be of significant relevance to the aviation industry. The Ministry is sensitising all stakeholders in the civil aviation sector to give preference to Agniveers in employment,” he added.

Cost could come down

The “hybrid” model of security involving private security agencies would be applicable to airports run by the Airports Authority of India (AAI) as well as private operators like GMR. It is only a matter of time before airports across the country go for private security, an industry veteran said.

Airports in Mumbai, Hyderabad, Bengaluru and Delhi, which are run by private players, may also get the benefit of lower costs due to induction of private security personnel, he added, alluding to the costs being lower than CISF. Under such circumstances, the Aviation Security Fee (ASF) charged from passengers could be reduced.

When CISF provides security to an establishment, the costs have to be reimbursed by the owner or operator of the establishment. This is passed on to the passenger via the fee collected on air tickets by way of ASF that is deposited in the National Aviation Security Fee Trust (NASFT).

CISF is a compensatory cost force that recovers its costs by way of reimbursement when it is provided to private establishments or individuals, a senior Home Ministry official explained. In the previous financial year, for example, Rs 1,427 crore was collected as ASF to be disbursed to CISF for 65 out of the 100-odd operational airports in the country.

Spiralling demand

As of now, more than 5,000 CISF personnel guard the Delhi airport and more than a 1,000 personnel are deployed at Kolkata airport. It is estimated that the actual requirement at Kolkata for round-the-clock security is around 1,400 personnel and it would increase to 1,600 over the next couple of years.

The shortfall would be gradually met through private security personnel, according to a gradual induction plan that is being kept under wraps due to the sensitive nature of airport operations.

The Srinagar, Amritsar and Jaipur airports are guarded by over 500 CISF personnel each, officials said. Mumbai airport is guarded by over 4,000 CISF personnel of various ranks while the Hyderabad and Chennai airports are guarded by 1,500 CISF personnel each. In the case of the Bengaluru airport, the CISF deploys around 2,000 personnel. At the Thiruvananthapuram and Kannur airports in Kerala, over 500 CISF personnel each are deployed on round-the-clock security.

No arms for privates

An important aspect of the “hybrid” security system for airports is the continued deployment of armed CISF jawans to secure the perimeters of airports. Private security personnel will not be allowed to carry arms at airports and,  therefore, their deployment at the airport outer security ring is ruled out.

Similarly, CISF personnel will continue to man the “sensitive” gates meant for passenger departure from the terminal areas to board aircraft. Baggage scan responsibilities will also continue to be manned by the CISF. Bomb detection equipment and liaison with the local police will also be the preserve of the CISF.

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